In my previous diary I took you almost, but not quite, to the halfway point in the ride. Now it's time for me to take you the rest of the way to LA. I ran into some technical difficulties involving embedded pictures from Flickr and Google Chrome and the diary was getting a bit too long anyway, so I decided to split it into two parts.
Let's get right to Part Two then, beneath the orange squiggly thing.
On the morning of Day Four I wake up in the town of Paso Robles. In a motel room. I have to admit it--it's nice waking up in a real bed. I actually didn't sleep all that well but I felt rested anyway. The advantage to being a princess (see Part One of this diary for an explanation of why "princess" is a technical term) is that, in principle at least, getting ready to roll in the morning is much simpler; there's less packing up to do. On the other hand I STILL had lots of process to take care of. So after Andrew and I checked out, headed into camp and dropped off our bags, I still needed to go to Medical and Sports Medicine. I figured Sports Medicine would take longer so that's where I went first. I arrived before camp services had opened and there were lines. Still it didn't take me too long at either one. Sports Med decided that I indeed needed to have my IT band taped. This is what my left leg looked like for the remainder of the week...
The point is--it worked.
After the medical chores I headed for breakfast, did some stretching and went to bike parking. Since I had SAG'ged the day before my bike had been put on a truck to be taken to camp. I really should have taken the computer off; when I picked my bike up it was displaying an error message. The bike techs tried replacing the batteries but couldn't get the computer to synchronize with the computer and thought it had been damaged. They didn't have a replacement for me but thought there might be one available either at lunch or in Santa Maria. By this time it was almost 8 a.m. which is not a good time to leave camp on Day 4 since it's just short of a 100 miles and there are lots of hills to climb (plus various distractions). The big hill is Evil Twins. I've never thought of the Twins as being nearly as tough as Quadbuster; the distance from the beginning of the first twin to the Halfway point just beyond the summit is nine miles but the climbs themselves aren't nearly as steep as Quadbuster is. The summit of Evil Twins is the highest point on the ride. Getting there is an accomplishment.
When the weather's good the view from the halfway point is spectacular...
I had my picture taken at the "Halfway to LA" point once, but it makes me really nervous to stand on those rocks while holding my bike over my head so I wasn't going to be doing it again. I did get some nice pictures of other folks though.
The downhill was fun; it wasn't terribly windy this year which made the descent more enjoyable. On the other hand I really hated riding without a computer. Some of it was vanity (I couldn't tell how fast I was going or what my top speed was on the descents), but I also couldn't judge how far I was from each turn. At the bottom of the hill we return to the coast on Highway One for a spell, heading towards Morro Bay.
Our second rest stop is on Highway One just north of the beach town of Cayucos where there are places to stop for coffee and food.
Most years I spend some time having an off-the-road lunch at a little diner called Skipper's (there's a rear deck overlooking Morro Bay) but I wanted to get to the bike techs at lunch so I kept going instead. I don't know what happened in the morning but the bike techs at lunch took all of thirty seconds to get my computer working again. I probably spent a bit too much time enjoying lunch, including another fun encounter with Chicken Lady.
Lunch is at one end of San Luis Obispo; Rest Stop 3 is at the other end. Once again I did my best not to linger. I rode out with my friend Andrew and we made our way towards Pismo Beach. Andrew of course wanted to stop for cinnamon rolls and I am definitely a pushover for a good snack and these are the best.
At this point it was getting late again. We hurried back to our bikes but I needed to stop at the Water Stop a few blocks onward. Once we get to the end of this section of coastal riding we are at the town of Arroyo Grande and on Highway One. There isn't an easy way of getting through Arroyo Grande, which sits at the top of a hill. Every direction involves a climb. One route we've used in the past but have discarded (not once but twice) is the rather inaptly named "Halcyon Hill." It's the shortest way to get to the top but is also the steepest. The one year I climbed it I found it to be nothing short of a miracle that I made it; it took me three minutes to get to the top and fifteen minutes to catch my breath afterwards. The current route is probably the least painful but still involves a couple of short, stiff climbs, off of Highway One and then back on it at the center of town. There are a few more short climbs and then the terrain levels out for a bit and then we reach the point where we cross the boundary between Northern and Southern California. Right past this we make a descent into the farmlands surrounding Guadalupe and Santa Maria. Rest Stop 4, in Guadalupe, had a county fair theme this year. I found time to get some cotton candy before heading out perhaps fifteen minutes before the stop closed.
The final section of the day's route is fast, with a reliable tailwind and a straight, flat road all the way into Santa Maria. There are some turns and stopping involved. I finally arrived at camp at 6:50, only moments ahead of the caboose. It's important to keep in mind that not everyone who rides in with the caboose is a slow rider struggling to keep ahead of route-closure. There are the people like me who dawdle and the folks like Chicken Lady and some of the more dedicated training ride leaders who make it a point to keep pace with the slowest riders in order to support them.
Day Five is short and festive but not as easy as you'd think. And why, you may ask, it Day Five so festive? Because it's Red Dress Day. That's why. Begun originally (and on a different AIDS ride) as "Dress in Red Day," the intention was to have us present the appearance of a living, moving red AIDS ribbon, like so...
AIDS/LifeCycle being an event with a preponderance of gay men however, the terminology quickly changed. And it's not as though us gay men have any sort of monopoly on red dresses.
The man on the right in the lovely tutu is a bona fide heterosexual. Or so he says. He's even engaged. To a woman no less.
The day's route is only a bit over forty miles but there are three big climbs along the way; back in the days of the California AIDS Ride these hills were called (respectively) Peak 1, Climb For Life and Pain Pass; the old names seem to have gone by the wayside; I'm not quite sure why. On Day Five the photo ops are endless so there are plenty of ways to waste time. Camp breaks out in a sea of red.
I find it fun to watch people transform themselves from ordinary cyclists to art installations on wheels.
Let's face it: some people look good no matter WHAT they're wearing.
We head spend a good deal of time riding around in circles through Santa Maria before our first rest stop; then we head out of town towards the first climb and past the town of Casmalia where we used to have our second rest stop (sadly we're no longer able to stop there). Because there is no break in Casmalia we go directly from the first climb to the second one, which I don't really like; it seems to go on and on and on. The payoff is a long descent. We don't quite make it to the bottom; instead we head back uphill to Rest Stop 2 which is on the grounds of Vandenberg AFB. From there we drop down again; there is a stretch of flat riding and then a hairpin turn puts us back onto Highway One yet again for our final big climb. Some folks call this one "Ant Hill" because the riders below you look like ants. For me this climb sort of marks the beginning of the end of the ride; after it there's only on major hill left on the entire route. After the climb we turn off of Highway One for a bit, then rejoin it at the main entrance to Vandenberg. Then we turn off again and pass the federal prison in Lompoc (no, they didn't invite me in for a stay) on our way to lunch. Camp is a mere three miles after the lunch stop. I was lucky to get into camp in time to schedule a massage appointment and then received my best news of the week: the staph infection had cleared up to the point where the folks at medical felt I no longer needed to check in with them. The massage was terrific; I had the woman who was in charge of me work on my quads and on the back of my neck and she was so successful I had no more problems for the final two days. Day Five is the day most of the group and team pictures are taken.
There is also a woman, not otherwise connected with the ride, who for the past seven or eight years at least has dropped in on us, between Bradley and Lompoc, with some of her pets in a stroller.
Positive Pedalers kicks our group photo off with pizza.
After the pizza and the picture I snagged another dinner and then headed for the tent; I find it very wise to head to bed early this night so I'm well-rested for Day Six.
I LOVE Day Six. We climb our last really big hill (and it isn't that tough); we're on the coast for miles and miles; we have Paradise Pit; there is the candlelight vigil on the beach at the end of the day. And we're nearly to LA. The day starts with the traditional white-trash festival and riot staged by the gear and tent roadies.
(This is the front view. I can't show you the other side here. Trust me, it's lovely).
By this point in the week, stretching is REALLY important, as is the use of foam rollers.
Thanks to a fairly early night and no longer needing to go to medical before leaving I was on the road at around 7. This day, like most of the latter half of the ride, began on the gloomy side; in fact the sun didn't appear for good until lunchtime, though it did tease us for a bit early on. Too bad really; last year it was bright and sunny.
We're out on the road and immediately on Highway One for the first sixteen miles, climbing gradually with the occasional descent. The climb reaches its finale beyond Rest Stop One, where we encountered this surprise visitor.
Less than a mile later we reach the summit and then have an exciting, occasionally scary, downhill into Gaviota Pass and onto Highway 101.
Several miles beyond the pass is a two-lane bridge with no shoulder that requires CHP to close a lane for us. During ALC 8, CHP pulled the lane closure permit because of the weather (that's why Day 6 was canceled that year). The lane can remained closed for a limited amount of time so riders are held at Rest Stop Two awaiting the signal to proceed. This year I arrived there before the route had been opened. So many people had gotten there ahead of me that bike parking was completely full and riders were backed up nearly to the shoulder of the freeway. The route finally opened at 9:30 and the crowd eventually cleared up. I tried to get in and out of the stop quickly.
This is our first chance for a good look at the coast. Even on a cloudy day (the sun appeared, then disappeared again), it really is lovely.
This is a very pretty stretch of road and is fun to ride despite the fact that we're on freeway and we need to be very careful and attentive. There are some short uphills but it's generally a pretty fast stretch. Ricky, my long-lost friend from DC, and some of his friends caught up with me along this portion of the route and we rode together into lunch. Last year I killed some time at lunch this day waiting to be taken care of by Sports Medicine; this year I was back on the road pretty fast. We had been warned of a possible detour shortly after lunch; the detour took us onto a stretch of road we used to traverse during the California AIDS Ride days, past the entrance to UC Santa Barbara for a bit of nostalgia (during my three AIDS Rides, the official lunch stop was on the UCSB campus itself), and then back onto the route we've used in recent times.
Riding through Santa Barbara is always a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me. My late partner Mario lived in Santa Barbara before he and I met; we took a trip there in 1989 and the route of the ride passes some of the spots he and I visited then. Mario studied to become a chef at Santa Barbara City College, directly above Rest Stop 3. We went swimming at Summerland Beach, between Montecito and Carpinteria and we spent a good amount of time on and around the municipal pier and beach, which as you can see really is lovely.
So I can get a bit choked up along this section of the ride. Rest Stop 3 often gets passed by on Day 6; it's upstaged by Paradise Pit just three miles down the way at the other end of the municipal beach. The theme at RS 3 this year was "Purgatory," complete with angels and devils.
Did anyone besides me notice we were riding from Purgatory to Paradise? I made a couple of stops between the two for pictures. Some ALC alumni had driven down and were standing there cheering us on.
Paradise Pit is an unofficial stop that began some thirteen or so years ago. During the California AIDS Ride days there was a fairly large Team Santa Barbara and some of the team's alumni and friends decided it would be nice to serve treats to riders. The main promise was "no Clif Bars." Instead there's ice cream, cookies, candy and fresh fruit.
And as an added bonus, this year Ginger Brewlay made her one and only appearance of the week at Paradise. Like Chicken Lady, Ginger was for many years, until her "retirement" after AIDS/LifeCycle 10, a fixture on the ride. She'd show up in character at least once each day during the ride, and again later on in the day in civilian garb. Doing that sort of thing each day for a week can get pretty exhausting, hence Her Majesty's official retirement. Still, we were promised the occasional surprise and she did not let us down.
Once we get going again we're still along the coast for a bit; then we cross to the other side of Highway 101 through Montecito and Summerland before crossing back over in Carpinteria. Generally speaking I find I hit a wall of fatigue somewhere along this stretch. This year was no exception though it wasn't as tough as it has been some other years. Still, I had to abandon any ideas I might have entertained about skipping the Water Stop. I needed to rest! The good news from here on is that it's a quick seven miles to Rest Stop 4. Most of the ride is back on the freeway. Shortly after we enter the freeway we also cross the Ventura County line, another marker indicating that the ride's coming to a close. We exit where Highway One pops back into existence. It was nice to see that at least SOME of the roadway before and after Rest Stop 4 had been resurfaced; hopefully more of it will be by this time next year. The stop is right along the coast with great views of the waves (and of the surfers), making for an excellent background.
There always seems to be a DJ here and somehow or other at least a few people actually have the energy to do a bit of dancing.
The theme here this time around was Grider, a take-off on Grindr.
Hey; if the shoe fits...
And once again it's time to hit the road.
The final stretch from Rest Stop Four to camp is relatively a breeze; mainly flat with a couple of brief climbs. Three miles before camp we leave the road and enter a bike path that takes us nearly all the way in; in fact we're not on roadway again after this point. We ride along the Ventura beach boardwalk and under the municipal pier and there we are. Buenaventura State Beach is actually a very pretty place to camp but over the years I've come to the conclusion that I really need to be a princess for the final night of the ride; the Marriott is right outside of the park and it's just too tempting. I did go back to camp for dinner though and had a chance to get a few more pictures before calling it a night.
Friday evening concludes with a candlight vigil on the beach. I've attended it several times but have found myself wanting to get to bed earlier. Anyone considering doing AIDS/LifeCycle for the first time (or even for the second or third time) is well advised to participate; it's very powerful and very moving. Here's a picture from a few years ago...
Day Seven is bittersweet. We've ridden all week, we're tired, we miss our own beds and our loved ones. And yet we don't want the ride to end (okay some people feel differently I know). We want to prolong the sense of community we've developed and nurtured over months of training and seven days on the road. But we gotta end because we're running out of miles and we're running out of route. You'd think of course that, after having been a princess the night before I'd be up and out and on the road in no time. But even though I no longer had any medical issues left to deal with I still managed to dither at breakfast and afterwards. I brought my water bottles to the bike; I pumped up the tires, I went back and ate breakfast, I ate, I stretched, I took more pictures. Finally I got going at 7 (still not bad but not early). It was cool and foggy and even a bit drizzly riding through Ventura, Oxnard and Port Hueneme.
The road is flat and this section of the route goes by fast. Rest Stop 1 is at mile 20, one third of the way to the end, and I got there at 8:15. Once again I tried to be speedy but of course I have that camera with me. Even though it's little more than a CALTRANS staging area for work vehicles, it's set up against the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains, so there's a certain amount of charm to it.
Everyone's in a good mood; it's tough not to catch some of it.
(I have one of those jerseys; some of you folks helped me to earn it and I thank you for that.)
Once we're back on PCH we do have some rolling hills, a couple of which are actually fairly substantial. In between there are sections of beach that allow people to pull off. The couple here...
...are referred to as "Mom and Dad." Their son is a multi-year rider, though I haven't seen him over the past few years; for a number of years they have either worked as roadies or have themselves ridden but like some others they've sort of slowed down. And, like some others, they really don't want to leave us behind completely so they try to show up at some point along the way to cheer us on.
The second rest stop is just nine miles further down Rest Stop 1, just past the LA county line. Once again it's time to get some pictures. The rest stop themes here are often either funny or else inspiring. This year they kept it simple...
After Rest Stop Two there are three climbs (only two of which are remarked upon on the route sheet). Neither is more than about half a mile but it IS Day Seven after all and each hill, even a short one, has begun to seem like a challenge. I was surprisingly comfortable this day, probably because I had inadvertently put three ibuprofens in with my morning meds and when I saw they were there I figured I might just as well take them. Normally I only take ibuprofen at bedtime. At the top of one of those hills, a group of people (I think the're from LAGLC) is handing out chocolate.
I always stop for chocolate. Always. And who better to demonstrate the chocolate than Team Swiss?
Yes they really DID travel all the way from Switzerland for AIDS/LifeCycle. From Rest Stop 2 until lunch we're riding through Malibu. What a gift it is to be able to travel through so much beauty.
There is one last big climb near the Pepperdine University campus and then we're at lunch.
I know I won't be staying for closing ceremonies so this is the time for me to say goodbye to many of my friends. On my way out I run into Andrew; we leave together and ride the last leg of the route to the VA Hospital. Riding this stretch of PCH can be a challenge; there is no bike lane and there's lots of traffic and quite a few places where cars enter and leave the road. It's pretty fast overall but it can be dangerous so it's important to pay attention and not ride too aggressively. We enter LA proper and turn off the PCH at Will Rogers State Beach; now we're on bike path, which takes us to the underpass, which puts us in Santa Monica. There is one final hill to climb on Ocean Avenue in a residential district. At the far end there are folks cheering riders on.
This takes us to the foot of San Vicente Boulevard which we stay on until we're almost at the end of the ride. Because traffic is heavy we turn right and cross San Vicente. There's a couple of little block-long hills and then we turn into the VA Hospital grounds; the route is lined with folks cheering us in. We've finished another ride. Time to drop off the bike, locate Trapper (who was probably ten feet away from me when I rode in but it can be quite hectic) and get a quick bite of non-ALC food (a cheeseburger and a coke for me!). And then there are a few more farewells; I think everyone I say goodbye to has already signed up for next year's ride.
Our gear's been unloaded for the last time and is ready to be picked up.
And then Trapper and I are off to our hotel to relax for a bit. We did great this year.
The official mileage of the ride is 545; out of that I rode 523. The ride raised a record amount of money...$14.2 million by the time we rode out; more by the time we were done.
And we'll do even better next year on ALC 13. I hope to ride all 545 miles next year and I hope you'll be there with me to do it.