with 545 miles and 7 days behind me, this may be the longest single team lope ride report yet.
but this is much more than just a ride report, because there really was a whole lot more to this than just riding multiple centuries over some of the most beautiful land in the country. and that’s how i sort of personally engaged in it, too — i had very specific goals for the ride itself, but because it was an event with a great degree of communal and goal-oriented aspects to it, i wanted to participate equally in both facets.
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generally, every day looked very similar. we usually got up before 0530, and then the drill was:
+ get dressed
+ break down tent
+ take gear bag and tent to the gear trucks
+ ride out
i was on the road before 0700 every day but two, i think, and one of em was like 0715.
throughout the day, there were various rest stops — some as close as 10 miles between and others as much as 25 miles between. as far as i could tell, this was predicated by some factoring together of the distance of the day’s ride, and what significant aspects (read : CLIMBS) it contained, and where. one of these rest stops was always a lunch stop, and certain days also had one rest stop where it was strictly a "water stop." no snacks, no bike maintenance crew, just water and johns. these were usually on the hottest days.
upon arriving back at camp, there was no real drill, but usually it looked pretty well opposite to the above:
+ park bike
+ get tent and gear back from gear trucks
+ set up tents
+ do whatever you needed to at medical services, bike service, massage, sports medicine, information services, and the like
+ evening report
+ some event
i was always sound asleep by 2200, usually more like 2130 or a little earlier.
obviously, everyone’s drill was different, but that was mine.
each day was INCREDIBLY organized. when you went for breakfast, you got "the daily spin," which was the ALC version of a newspaper. no news from the outside world, mind you, but it contained things such as a brief overview of the day’s route, the menus for lunch, dinner, and the NEXT morning’s breakfast, some inspirational story or interesting bio, a few safety precautions if necessary for that day’s ride, and stuff like that.
the gear guys, who you saw at both the beginnings and ends of the days, were fucking heroes, man. every day, they loaded 1500 heavy ass bags onto 20-something trucks and hauled it to the next campsite, then unloaded it onto the ground behind the trucks. basically, in the morning, you gave one of them your bag, and in the evening, you picked it out of an orderly set of rows that they’d laid out. those dudes WORKED, and way more than any of us riders.
some of the gear trucks, up close
a tent city, with gear trucks to the right
and the rest stop and lunch stop staff were pretty amazing, too. not only did they have a smooth process of handing out whatever you wanted in the way of powerade, water, clif bars, peanut butter crackers, pop tarts, fruit, and in the instance of the lunch stops specifically: sammiches, chips, and so on … but they also "themed" every rest stop. one rest stop was the air force, and they were dressed up in green jumpsuits, actually waving us in with orange cone flashlights down a "landing strip" of painters tape on the ground. another was grease, and they actually put on a scene from the movie, dressed up in rydell high school gear and having a good time. so it was fun when you pulled over.
photobooth pirateLung seen!
(personally, that’s where my own separation between the event and the ride started to come into play. i really didn’t need to see every single little detail of every rest stop’s show (though i appreciated the effort immensely), and i’m also a much stronger cyclist than to need to stop every 25 miles all the time, even in hot weather, or with a lot of climbs. so i didn’t see every rest stop. but for me, that was actually a good thing, further bolstering my long-distance cycling knowledge, of which i have little outside of bike tech and general common sense.)
another daily implement that i want to give a shoutout to is the shower trucks. they RULE. giant semis split into two halves, one women’s and one men’s, each with about 10 showers and changing stalls in them. hot water with good pressure, and six sinks outside to brush teeth or shave. they also had hose on the outside, and a bunch of buckets for doing laundry in. this was a MAJOR convenience.
evening reports were faithfully full of jokes and daily news (injuries, safety violations, news from the world) and congratulations. they were always followed by stuff to view, then, which was also a nice treat. stuff like the simpson’s movie one night, a talent show one night — stuff like that. again, i didn’t participate in ALL that stuff, but most of it, yeah.
you also got a route map every day, and those were the best, even if sometimes they made you gasp in disbelief. they had a section at the top which charted mileage and climbing feet for the day. (you’ll see those throughout the remainder of the ride report, as i use them here as a visual reference for the day’s ride.) they also had the route written out, turn by turn. and on the back, they had a map of the next campsite, to help you get oriented when you arrived.
so as you can see — this shit is TIGHT.
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don’t let the smile fool you. it was early enough that i was capable of murder.
this day differed from the rest in that we were all coming from our homes or hotels, so there was no breakfast service, and there was an opening ceremony. this was a hoorah speech about what you were about to embark on, and a reminder of why you were doing it. there was also a solemn procession in which a riderless bike was walked down the opening ramp, representing all the people who couldn’t be with us on the ride, and in life, because there’s still no cure for AIDS. that was deep. deep like a ghost bike, just without all the white spraypaint.
the rideout itself was electric. 2500 bikers taking to the streets at a god-awful time of the morning, headed south for a while. cheers from friends, family, and interested spectators greeted us as we rolled onto geneva avenue, and directly into a climb. hahaha!!! sign of things to come. it was INCREDIBLY congested here, as you can imagine, and didn’t thin out for a long time. but on this day, we covered 80-ish beautiful miles and ended up in santa cruz. along the way, there was a rest stop at a fishing lake, lunch at a state beach, and sunshine, sunshine, sunshine.
also, snakes. this is a live one. i bunnyhopped a dead one later in the trip.
fun fact : our species does not have the same agreement with snakes that we do with pigeons.
as you can see up there in the chart, there were a couple of good-sized climbs in there, and that’s where i really excelled. i found that overall, my strongest cycling skill now … is climbing. this was one of my greatest fears going into this event, and because i committed to training for that, specifically, i was actually passing most people on the hills. at speed. and doing so in the big ring. because i specifically climbed every day on the way home from work, and towards the end of my training regimen also took that climb out of sausalito, fixed — i think i really got myself into a good place with this aspect of cycling.
i remember day 1 taking me 8 hours, which included stopping at 2 of the rest stops and at lunch. i figure that averages me out at 12 mph or so. pretty pitiful, but it wasn’t a race, so i’m not sweating it. the goal to me was just to complete it, and to do so in good health.
a reservoir with some nature seen.
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my first century! it was actually 105 miles this day, and it was also on the heels of having knocked out 80 — previously my longest distance ridden. so this was a big day for me.
referencing the chart there, you can see that there were really no climbs on this ride. and one other thing. there was a tailwind for most of it. THAT was AWESOME. i was bombing fast on this day, and it felt like heaven. it was a false sense of accomplishment, i think, to a degree, but i’ll take it. along this route, we passed through some of the most beautiful farmland in the country, had one rest stop at a winery (no wine allowed, though!), another at a famous mission, and we lunched in salinas’ beautiful central park.
along the way, there was an unofficial rest stop, too, which was bomb, because it was right on an artichoke farm, and there was a little truck there, like a taco truck, run by a filipino family who was serving deep fried artichoke hearts and also lumpia. lumpia is basically filipino eggrolls. bonus points for lung here, (SG)rrlfriend is half-filipino, and so i’ve been getting her to teach me tagolog (the filipino language). i only know a handful of useful phrases, but of course one is "thank you," and i know how to address it to elders as well, to show respect. so i told the woman that, in tagolog, and she and her daughter both looked at me so shocked. like "who’s this whiteboy talking tagolog to us?" luckily, she guessed right, that i didn’t know much more than that, and only told me "thank you" back, but ALSO phrased it in the respectful elder manner, and with a big smile, which made me feel good. anyway, i mashed on some artichoke hearts and lumpia and was happy happy joy joy.
fried artichoke hearts and lumpia seen!
this day took me only 9 hours, and with 3 rest stops and a lunch stop, that puts me closer to a 15-17mph average on the day. tailwind rocks!
we camped in king city this night, in a park that included an historic train station, complete with a preserved southern pacific railway car, and an old schoolhouse. very cool stuff.
old school. and still faster than a bicycle.
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QUADBUSTER. this is the loving name bestowed upon a section of the ride that amounts to ten miles of climbing, between distance and height. i personally decided that i would not refer to it as "quadbuster," which was intimidating, and instead called it "peppermint hill," "double happy joy climb," and "big rock candy mountain." it’s really all a mental game in the end.
still. it sucked.
but this day had such a great addition to it. in a little town called bradley, the 36 kindergarten through 8th grade students of the local school get together with their parents and teachers and throw a barbecue. all the meals on the ride are free, but if you choose to pony up for extra-delicious double cheeseburgers and yummy yummy chili dogs, you’re helping the students and teachers of bradley further their educational field trips. they also had a baked goods stand, and some of the more business-minded tykes also made up pin-buttons with well-wishes and thank you’s on them that they were selling for a pittance. i don’t have time for no crayon pin-button, but i smashed that burger back, you best believe. finished it with a brownie that i prayed to heaven was a "special" brownie (it wasn’t), and felt good about helping the kids.
this night we rolled into paso robles, after more gorgeous farmland, some INTENSE heat, and the 60-something miles took me around 8 hours. this seems much slower than my average, but i waited over 30 minutes in that cheeseburger line, so i think it all works out in the end.
wineries are beautiful.
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a loooong line.
THE EVIL TWINS. see, i just don’t understand all these negative names they have to give shit on this ride. like it’s hard enough to get up at 0530, do i really have to finish my weak coffee to the sounds of having to get over "the evil twins" before reaching the halfway point to LA? i mean, come on. so again, harnessing the power of the positive, i only referred to these two climbs as "trixie" and "mixie," which was much more attractive-sounding.
still. they sucked.
but at the top? HALFWAY TO LA!!! there was a pulloff here where you could look at the most incredible sprawling panorama of california that i may have ever seen.
the only known sighting of the rare and elusive legsOfLung.
yes, it’s true, i’d shunned my fatigues on this day, because it was hotter than the face of the sun out there, and also they stank like 3 days of riding. alas, this was the ONLY day i rode without fatigues, because despite the stank, i can’t be seen like that. it’s true, i have issues.
and right after that picture was taken? 4 miles of 7% grade, straight down. fuckin a, that was fun. i was going so fast that the cars were passing me at a speed just a few mph over mine. the sucky thing about bombing hills this fast, though, is that when you get into an uneven slipstream, you get speedshake. that’s where your handlebars start wobbling, and as a natural reaction, you tense up, causing the whole shimmy shimmy ya to reverberate even worse. it was all i could do to just relax my grip when the shakes hit me 3/4 of the way down. cause there was no WAY i was slowing down. hahaha!!! but i did a little bit towards the end, as i started leaving rooster tails of gravel. which was scary.
at the bottom of that, we went through a town where a teacher had her class out on the sidewalk, waiting for us. they were all cheering and wanted rolling high-5′s. they also had made little sculptures for us out of pipe cleaners and clothespins. it was really invigorating.
this day flattened out a little bit, and averaging up, this was my second century in three days! i was really handling this like a dream. plenty of hydration, occasional stops, and conservation of energy were really treating me well. i was a little sore by the end of this day, but compared to how i thought i’d feel, it was NOTHING.
unfortunately, this one of a couple days where i lost track of how long it was taking me to get through, so i have no idea of my average speed on this day. i’d lump it in with the average, though, if only because it’s consistent to the terrain/distance that i covered.
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easiest. day. ever. we’d just killed 340 miles in 4 days, and we were all feeling it. but this day was only 40-something. i never thought i’d hear myself exclaim, "sweet! ONLY 40 miles today!!!" but i did.
this was a VERY slow day, because it was an event day. today was "red dress day," and in a group of 3000 where the primary contingent is gay men, well, you can imagine. i wore a red t-shirt instead of a cycling jersey, and also some red beads i’d been given earlier in the week. that was my participation. but some of these people, holy hell. there was one drag queen who i don’t have a picture of, unfortunately, but who in addition to being decked out in a red dress, and having his helmet adorned with a full headdress of red feathers and beads and jewels, also had cleats on the bottom of his 6-inch red pumps. so he was in full drag — CLIPPED IN. that actually depressed me. i was like, "dammit, and i’m complaining about my mountain bike shoes." hahaha!!!
best three stooges anything, ever.
lots of people had lots of fun this day, as one of the towns we passed through, in addition to having a bake sale out front, had also set up a big dance party right in the street. i didn’t stop at this rest stop, only heard about it later. but still. cool.
this day, because i took my time and tried to take it as a fun, relaxing ride (even though it had MORE climbing in it), took me 5 hours. that’s under 10mph, but with a lot of stops along the way, i’m sure i averaged out.
but when this day was over, that was the real treat. we camped outside a small city called lompoc this night, and the local transit district arranged to run some shuttles between town and our camp. keep in mind, the only social interaction we’d had for the last 5 days was in our own little bubble, and interaction with the outside world was fleeting at best. so myself and a couple friends i had or had met on the ride (one, my grrlfriend’s cousin, and the rest, mutual friends) all hopped on the bus immediately after showering and rolled into town. this was about 6 in the afternoon, and i promptly directed us to the local bar/pool hall. ahhhhhh, miller high life and the faint taste of cue chalk on your fingers. no meal that they served us on this whole ride tasted as good as that. but still, we went to the local mexican joint, el toro bronco, and smashed back so many quesadillas, tacos, taquitos, burritos, enchiladas, beans and rice, and margaritas it was insane. that was heaven. then i went across the street to baskin robbins and ordered a rocky road milkshake. i didn’t even know such a thing existed, but at the h street 31 flavors in lompoc, ca, you can have same. i endorse it. but use a big straw. those walnuts don’t grind down very small.
fine dining in lompoc, ca.
never too tired for social interaction, the crew fills up.
we were all being very responsible and none of us were getting drunk, but we were enjoying ourselves immensely. when we were done with dinner (and dessert, in my case), we went to the bus stop where we thought that shuttle might be coming by. while waiting there, we saw one of the ALC sweep vehicles approaching (the vehicles that trail the ride and pick up anyone who’s got a broken bike or a broken self), on their way back to camp, so we flagged him down and he gave us a ride back. this was awesome, because the sweep vehicles, like the rest of the ALC elements, have their own themes, too. now i have no idea what this guy’s theme was, but i did notice half a styrofoam sphere in the cargo area of the vehicle, so i grabbed it and started doing improv with it. then we all started handing it around, saying "improv, GO!" and coming up with what we could come up with. it was a pregnant belly, a one-sided boob job, a radar dish, a helmet, and many other things along the way. that was some fun shit. we all slept well that night.
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we were all starting to get close now, and we were feeling it. there were a lot of taped knees and ankles by this point, along with endless groaning from sore muscles and asses, and a serious lack of patience starting to develop. but it was still really civil.
my day was all ride, all day. i only stopped at the lunch stop and the water stop this day. this was a great accomplishment for me, but it was so exciting that i did not conserve, and basically burned out my thighs, which were already suffering after 5 days of pushing them to their breaking point. but i put in a great time this day (80 miles in 7 hours WITHOUT tailwinds!), and i was getting used to the chore of ride/eat/sleep/repeat, so i knew i would make it through the next day, even if i ended up burned out.
by this time, we were seeing much less farmland, and much more coastal beauty. it was really starting to look like socal now.
not so much anymore.
this is how we roll now.
we passed through santa barbara this day, and they REALLY treated us well. i mean, everywhere we went, we were generally greeted with over-the-top welcomes, but sb did us up right. after a gorgeous ride down the beach, we turned a corner to find that a group of people had gathered along the lakeside in one of the many small downtown parks to give us a huge welcome.
welcome to santa barbara
also, ice cream and cookies.
probably the worst riding food ever, but you know i killed it.
we camped that night at san buenaventura state beach in ventura. it was here that we held a candlelight vigil after sunset. candlelight vigils are very strange. thousands of people come together and they’re totally silent. it’s an interesting exploration into the human condition. usually, you get that many people together at once, and something’s getting destroyed. but unite enough people focused on the same goal, and they function like an organism.
it’s easy to take good pictures of fire.
the whole beach was lit up from our time there.
everyone did their own personal thing.
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the last day! i have to be honest with you, this day showed a lot of threads. people were grumpy and tired, worn out, and generally ready to be done. the coastline taunted us with promises of the lazy southern california lifestyle, and we were in LA county, where people drive like they know what they’re doing, when in fact, they’re just waiting till they kill the next person. so this was a tough day, both physically and mentally.
but the ride was beautiful, and at 60-something relatively flat miles, not entirely unbearable, either. my legs were really protesting this day, but there was no way that i was going to walk my bike, stop, or get driven anywhere by support vehicles. although, if the support vehicles looked like so, perhaps…
bicycle to la, 7 days. f-14 to la, 7 minutes.
we lunched at the baseball field at pepperdine university this day, and after miles of riding the coastline, we arrived in la.
smoggy coast seen, and 500 miles behind me.
riding in to the va center was unbelievable. along the way on this ride, we’d been greeted by bystanders at many turns, but it was all nothing compared to riding the last half-mile with thousands of people on either side of us, cheering and screaming, waving signs of support and congratulations, and generally helping to strip away all the stress of a week in the saddle with their outpouring of support.
we had a closing ceremony, too, but i have to say, we were all so over it at this point that at least for me, it was all just a drone, like charlie brown’s teacher. my grrlfriend had flown down the day before and checked into our hotel, and i couldn’t have been happier to see her standing there with her friends, holding their posterboard signs up and jumping around like house of pain.
in los angeles, honey-skinned ehps throw themselves at you. true fact!
and that was it. 545 miles down, lots of sun, and one sore ass.
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one funny thing was that the whole event had been so well-organized that when we got here to los angeles, everything seemed like it just fell apart. i found great humour in this. i’d arranged for a towncar to take us to our hotel, but the service i used, which had been recommended by the ALC, was overloaded with all the other people who’d reserved vans, shuttles, and towncars, and i ended up giving our 45-minutes-late towncar to another person who was late for the airport, and we took a shuttle van to the hotel. the driver didn’t know where he was going, and it was a comedy of errors overall. the hotel also had their elevator down and we were staying on the 4th floor. that was hysterical. my poor legs!
after that it was a day and a half in los angeles, and i had a GREAT time hanging out with my amazing grrlfriend (who very caringly massaged my legs), a couple of her friends, and a cousinOfFriend. we started the day with tequila shots at brunch, and basically partied and shopped our way from hollywood to santa monica, and then back again.
but i don’t know, man, la does something to me…
effin gueros and their effin ways.
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a few r3-approved ride details for alla y’all…
how many fixies?
any r3-approved bikes?
a bicycle made for three.
a "trice" brand three-wheeled recumbent.
3 rensho makes the best headbadges.
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i think that overall, this was one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences i’ve ever had. and this comes from a guy who chases experiences the same way stoners chase cheetos. the combination of all the different aspects of it (physical, mental, emotional), each of which pushes you to your limit, really tests your fortitude, and bolsters your sense of power. you feel like you have the power to change the world when you realize you and 2500 of your compatriots raised 11 million dollars. you feel like you can overcome any obstacle when you climb your 3000th foot up the mountain. and most importantly, you don’t feel like you’re alone in your desire to rid the world of AIDS and HIV when you look out at a beach lit up by candles. it’s moving in every single way, and i’d be lying if i didn’t say that it breaks you down in a lot of ways. and i think everyone can attest to the fact that you have no idea where you stand until you’ve been broken down.
next year? since this requires a week off of work, and i, you know, have a life, i don’t think i’m going to sacrifice that kind of vacation time next year. but will i do it again? ABSOLUTELY. and here’s a twist. next time, i’m doing it fixed. one speed from here to la will be MINE. i spent a lot of time talking to the people who did it fixed this year, and they all had the same thing to say. "do you live in SF?" "yeah." "do you ride every day?" "yeah." "do you climb at all, like over in sausalito?" "yeah." "you’ll be fine." check!
many thanks to all my contributors, who made our 11-million dollar haul possible. and special thanks below…
+ mom, who flew out to sf to see me off.
+ dad and ed, who got up at the crack of dawn to come down to the rideout.
+ clm. xo! you make everything better.
+ ro, my tentmate, who tolerated my OCD ways without a complaint.
+ thom, for loaning me the trusty steed i rode on, when it was determined that my build was an epic fail.
you all know who you are, and i hope you feel as good as i did about having been a part of this. luckily for you, though, you don’t have the sore bootie. trust me. ouch.