Loukoum

Ramblings of an (angry) french expatriate in the Silicon Valley.

AIDS LifeCycle: Day 7

A pretty uneventful, day biking-wise. Overnight, Chicken Lady had dropped a surprise for each one of us on our bike saddles: a plastic egg containing a candy and a thank you note for having made this ride a success again. I was excited about finishing the ride in a good enough shape and I went all out, averaging 20mph for the first hour. This puts me in front of the pack at the first rest stop. I then decide to skip both rest stop #2 and lunch, in the hope that I would find a nice little spot to enjoy a drink on the shore in Malibu. Sadly, Malibu is a lot less dream-like than the depiction made of it in Baywatch. Though I saw the lifeguard command center from afar, there were no bars or restaurants in sight. It's with an empty stomach and under a weather that made me put me back my arm warmers on that I kept going down on Route 1. I cross the LA county line, then the city line and finally end up on the beachfront, before heading inland. The VA center is only a few miles away, maybe 5 or 6 at most. 20 minutes more. 10 minutes more. "Half a mile to go!" shouts an ALC roadie. Geez. Going left. Last turn.

A few dozen people are already here welcoming riders on this chilly L.A. morning. As I park my bike, I realize there must be only 70 riders who arrived so far but, luckily, William and Nathan have just arrived too. I rush to buy a burger, which I devour on the side of the road, watching other riders making their way in.

I spent the rest of the days waiting for the closing ceremony, which takes place at 4pm. I have more than 3 hours to wait and not a lot to do apart from getting my bike shipped back to S.F. Will and I head out for a wonderful coffee and some pastries in a cafe right outside the VA Center. I then head to the Cannondale tech stop, where I'm second in line to get my bike taken apart and boxed. After getting a change of clothes, I finally head down to the finish line again, where most of the riders have already arrived. The crowd is roaring and cheering for every new arrival. Emotion is getting the best of me and I can't help but shed some tears and feel my heart pounding in my rib cage: it's finally over. I have ridden 900 kilometers on a bike.

The closing ceremony is as intense as the opening one, but is also more joyful. There's a sense of pride for the 53% ALC noobs for whom it was the first time. Exhaustion is also finally getting the best of some of us. It's when you see a 250 lb. 65 year old woman passing the finish line that you realize the human mind is capable of wonderful feats.

At LAX, I was put on standby for an earlier flight and met a few people making their way back home. My and a roadie's names got called and we both head together to the desk. I was just trying to get me a seat on this flight but he was really going for the upgrade. The clerk was just starting to handle our case and he starts going all over about the ALC and how awesome and incredible it was: "can you believe this guy [(me)] biked for 545 miles?".

I was trying to keep a low profile and stay humble but the clerk was genuinely in awe and started jotting down the references of the ride. Despite my post-ride attire (a dirty pair of jeans turned bermuda, flip-flops on dusty feet and the ALC winner shirt) and the smelly filth that was all over me from not having taken a shower in more than a day and having ridden 100km in the SoCal sun, she gave me an upgrade to fly business. w00t.

Once in SFO, we say goodbye and I head out to the shuttle stops. As I'm waiting for mine, a woman who sat next to me starts a conversation, which quickly turns to me proudly telling her about the ride. To which she immediately replied, unimpressed: "Oh yeah, my husband did it a few years back". Grmph. I'm still too high on endorphins to care much about what you just said.

AIDS LifeCycle: Day 6

Everybody seems to still be pretty tired from the previous day and we spent about 30 minutes just to make our way out of Lompoc. As the weather clears up, we're heading South on highway 1, towards the last mountain range of the ride, which means we're shooting straight for the ocean. The last big descent takes place on the 101, but in much better conditions than on day 3. The asphalt is smooth and the road winds down between the steep rocky mountains that surround the area. And at the turn of the road, we're finally biking along the ocean, which will be the case for the remaining 100 miles or so. One can see oil platforms in the distance, many more than what I thought. Up until lunch, we'll basically be riding on the shoulder of the freeway, which is becoming narrower and therefore not as nice. Rest stop 2 is literally on the cliff and we get to see a bunch of dolphins putting out quite the show for us.

The second half of today's route is great, with a road that alternates between the ocean front and back avenues. We calmly make it to rest stop #3, which was set on the beach front in Santa Barbara. Some riders decide to go for a dip with their whole cycling outfit still on – a pretty bad idea considering the salt and the sand combined with latent friction. But still, pretty funny to see this happen. As we're heading out of town towards Ventura, we make a quick halt for rest stop 3.5, a.k.a. the paradise: the city of Santa Barbara and many businesses actively support the ALC by providing a rest stop of their own, where riders get all kinds of candies and sugary things for free. That was an awesome move and I thank them dearly for the cookies and ice creams and pies and everything they provided us with!

I make it into camp early enough to take a shower and have dinner #1 before heading to the closest hotel, where the extended Google team has organized for drinks. A couple of cocktails and an hour later, Nathan and I spot an In-n-Out right across the street. Full as it was, we wanted our double-double and started lining up. In line were many Californians who couldn't stand the withdrawal, but also a few east coasters looking forward to experience what they were told is the best burger chain in the West. I then headed back to camp for the evening presentations, followed by the traditional candlelight vigil on the beach.

AIDS LifeCycle: Day 5

It was supposed to be another easy day, with only 62 miles to ride. Everyone was happy to wear the red dress for the day, including myself in my beautiful but not quite fitting Nancy Reagan dress. As we're passing by a road sign that indicates the remaining distance to L.A. (220mi) I overheard a rider saying: "fuck this, it's just a big double century, I could be there tonight".

Everything was fine up to lunch, after which I had my first and only flat of the ride. A very pointy nail found its way into my rear tire. There's only 20 more miles to go, but it doesn't bode well for the rest of the day. After a little while, nature just decided it wasn't going to let us go like that: headwinds started to blow and we got them all the way to Lompoc. But not just any headwinds: it was the kind where you need to pedal while going downhill – or you're simply fall

Later this day, a 15 year semi-pro triathlete said he never experienced anything like that in his life. Think about throwing 2000 amateurs into this! Faced in a hard situation like that, I put my mind in "just another stroke mode", where I just pedal and don't think of anything else but the next stroke. One baby step at a time. Rest stop #3 is avery welcome break from the wind, around 12 miles before camp. After another long hour, the last hill is finally in sight and that damn valley is behind me. Lompoc is just a couple of miles away. It was a short day but the camp that night was particularly calm and silent. Tomorrow, we go for the coast!

AIDS LifeCycle: Day 4

We're halfway done! Well, almost. Not quite yet. There's those two climbs called the "evil twins" before the traditional spot where people snap their "Halfway 2 LA" pictures. The climbs are relatively easy and the scenery is beautiful. We're only at a 1600ft altitude, but we can see the golden hills and the ocean in the distance. The downhill after that is simply awesome: a clean road, a wide bike lane and almost no traffic. So the fun begins, I get down as fast as possible, which given my weight isn't quite a feat but still, I think I reached 40+ mph.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, except for another ALC milestone: the cinnamon rolls shop at Pismo beach. I arrived at a quiet time, but nearly 15 riders were lining up for their share as I was getting a taste of my roll along with my first decent cup of coffee in 5 days. Thank God I chose not to get the extra frosting which, as I later observed, consisted of an extra 1-inch-thick layer of lukewarm sugar paste. How on Earth can you pedal after that?

AIDS LifeCycle: Day 3

A short day (67 miles) that started almost immediately with the hardest climb of the ride: the aptly-named quadbuster. It's a pretty short but relatively steep climb and many riders decide to unclip and walk it up. A few riders also chose to await and cheer people at the top. I just go straight for the downhill and go as fast as I can all the way down to rest stop #2.

Lunch is served in Bradley, a very small town that welcomes riders every year by organizing a barbecue to raise funds for their school. Everyone is cheerful and the burgers were very tasty and full of fat. After lunch, we head into what was possibly the most dangerous section of the entire ride. For 4 or 5 miles, we'll be on the shoulder of the 101 with 16 wheelers passing us at 75mph. As they do so, they create a very powerful air vortex that sucks the bike into the traffic lane. The shoulder is in a miserable state and practically unrideable if not for a narrow band on the leftmost side, closest to the cars. Not fun.

The rest of the day is pretty uneventful. I arrive in Paso Robles fairly early and it's a long afternoon that I have ahead of me. Scott decided to princess it out and offers the second bed in his room to Janice and Kyra. He also reminds me that tonight is the Glee finale and there's no better occasion to watch it live. The afternoon is spent lying around in the grass under the shadow of a tree, before discovering the amazing massage rolls: long, rigid tubes of polystyrene, about 5 inches in diameter. Just put one under your body and roll over the part you want to massage, using your own weight to apply force. Needless to say that after about 24 hours in the saddle, finally getting my thigh muscles to let loose was an incredible feeling.

And everyone knows already how Glee ended :-)

AIDS LifeCycle: Day 2

The longest day of the ride. My first imperial century. As we're getting out of Santa Cruz, a bunch of us meet a bum already drunk at 6:30am, asking us "where the hell we're going like that?" I jokingly answer "Los Angeles" and he barely has the time to spit his booze that someone behind me says "He's not even kidding you."

A good part of the morning is spent riding in the coastal fog. As we're heading inland, we traverse the strawberry and artichokes fields, up to the legendary (ALC-wise) fried artichoke store, where riders are welcomed every single year to enjoy, you guessed it, fried artichokes. They're plain and warm and very tasty. As the middle of the day approches, the skies clear up and we're getting some strong tailwinds. The rest of the day is basically going to be in that same vein: sunny and windy. The Central Valley's landscapes are bright and golden and scattered with a few abandoned farms straight out of a Steinbeck's novel.

Right before rest stop #4, another legend of the ALC is around the corner: cookie lady. In the three months leading to the ride, cookie lady will have baked enough cookies to feed all of the riders! The cookie was absolutely delicious and well worth the 85 miles I had ridden since the morning.

After rest stop #4, the road is mostly downhill or flat to King City. It's also very quiet and car-less and only a few riders are spreading themselves thin over the recently redone asphalt. It's about 4pm and it looks like the sun is already low. King City looks like an oasis in the distance, and the wind is still behind me: third ring in the front, tenth ring in the back, let's go the distance! We may have stayed only in the outskirts of it but King City looks almost dead. There was almost zero traffic or pedestrians and it appears only the ALC staff is cheering the riders at our arrival in camp. It's hard to believe we've already covered a little less than 200 miles since yesterday morning.

AIDS LifeCycle: Day 1

Janice comes and picks me up at an indecently early time in the morning, but I was way too nervous to get a good night sleep anyway. It's 4am and I went to bed at 10 but only getting to sleep at around midnight and waking up multiple times. I'm tired but fully awake. We make it quickly to the Cow Palace, where we dropped our bikes and had our security brief the day before. It's time to drop our luggage in our assigned truck and get to the meeting area in the bike parking. Both Will and Mike are parked close to me and we meet Scott and Mark as well. That's almost a full team but neither Nathan nor Logan are in sight. I know I need to eat something before the ride, despite my stomach being all upset from the early wake up and the thrill of the ride.

The opening ceremony takes place in the Cow Palace arena. We start off with a quick but much needed stretching session. I gotta confess – it's quite something to see 2000 cyclists stretching all together in a giant stadium at 5:30am. I look around and start to notice some familiar faces from the Jon Pon Memorial ride, which I had done a month earlier.

Homage is paid to the riders who died of the disease and a moment of silence is observed. An intense moment to remind us why we really are riding. No matter each individual motive, the ride is here to make a difference in the fight against AIDS. Riderless bicycles are carried around to honor the memory of those who died. Various execs are getting on stage in an attempt to make us realize what we are about to attempt.

It ain't easy trying to get 2000 riders out of that warehouse and I wasn't even one of the first ones to get out. After beeing cheered on our way out by the many relatives who woke up early as well, we start pedaling our way out of Daly City under the low clouds and thin rain which is so common in this area. The first 7 miles of road or so are being cleared for us by the police.

After the first rest stop, we're heading South on Skyline and then taking 92 West, over to the shore. I take advantage of the short pass to get ahead of many riders. Once arrived on the coast, we're heading South on Route 1 all the way down to Santa Cruz. The weather is pretty foggy up to after lunch, which we had on a grassy field on the ocean front. I meet Janice and Mark and we decide to head out together. The weather clears up in the afternoon and it's under a pretty warm sun that we pedal our way down to Santa Cruz. The scenery is gorgeous but is just a foretaste of what is ahead of us.

I make it into camp at around 2pm, and wander around for a while trying to see how things work and what I'm supposed to do. I'm feeling surprisingly well but I know I really need a shower. I first have to park my bike, grab my gear, grab a tent, find my spot, set up the tent and change. Luckily, my tent mate made it early and we can actually say hi properly for the first time. I spend the rest of afternoon trying to find people in my team but I quickly realize we're spread too thin and decide to lie in the shade of a tree and go for a session of napping intertwined with some reading. It was a good first day but it was also familiar territory. Tomorrow, I'll be riding on roads I have never even driven on.