Tuesday, June 30, 2015

ALC Day 7

    This is it, the final day of the ride!! In total, 64 miles. If I thought the 90 miles of the previous day seemed daunting, nothing compared me for the feeling of 64 more miles today. My body is exhausted, my ankles felt as if they are hanging on with their last threads, I'm trying to motivate myself for another 4:30 am start for the day, and it's cold. As I got on bike and started the route I pushed myself through the stiffness in my muscles and forced myself to pedal. 

    The beginning of the route was surprisingly gentle compared to what we had experienced and before I knew if we were 15 miles in and approaching the first rest stop! I really couldn't believe the good time we were making and I drew positive energy from it. All along the route were people cheering us on. "Almost there," they would shout among the cowbells and thank you's, pushing us on onward as we got closer to our goal. Then the second rest stop appeared and then lunch, which we skipped to keep our wonderful momentum going. Finally, we reached Malibu and I knew that we were so, so close to home! This is where the ride began to get hard. 

    Malibu has some large hills. Not as large as what I've already conquered, but at this point in the ride I was so incredibly tired that I could barely make it up to the top. The world around me was beautiful but I could not lift my head to take it in. I just had to pedal, to focus, to put everything I had into my strokes so that my rhythm wouldn't falter. Malibu came with another challenge as well that we hadn't faced before: a dense population. There were pedestrians and motorhomes and, in many cases, no shoulder to ride on for fear of a car door suddenly opening. In fact, there was even a moment when a motor home blocked our shoulder, and right as we were passing into the lane another motorhome jutted out from the other side not even looking to see if there was oncoming traffic. With all of the riders as exhausted as we were this had to be one of the most dangerous routes we had ridden. But I swallowed my nervousness and pedaled onward.

    Finally we crossed out of Malibu and headed through beautiful Brentwood for the final 8 miles to the finish line at the VA Center. To my sadness, the entire length of that last stretch was a steady uphill climb with bursts of steepness scattered throughout. I could feel my ankles trying to break and my neck felt like it was caught in a vice from the strain...and then scariest event of the day occurred. We had skipped lunch earlier in the day because we had decided to make a small detour to a burger joint a mile from the finish line. When we reached that point we had to start and stop a lot to figure out where we were going. Stopping is the hardest part on my joints because I have to land on my foot, which strains my ankle. Well, as we made our way to the restaurant something pulled in my knee and I became unable to put pressure on my right leg. Even to walk. I stumbled over to a table and immediately threw ice on my knee and started massaging my quads while being terrified that I would not be able to make it to the finish line. We sat down and took a good 45 minute break as we ate our burgers (which were freaking delicious!) and then I tentatively got back on my bike to attempt the final mile. My knee definitely hurt, but I was so close that I could not let anything stop me from crossing that line. Not even the short steep hill leading right up to the VA Center! 

    Every pedal stroke at this point hurt, and the hills cause my knee to scream, but as I reached the gates and heard the cowbells and the cheers, and then the balloons and crowds of people...I could barely contain my emotions and somehow found one last ounce of strength to push forward. It wasn't even half a second from my foot hitting the ground that I grabbed Gavin and completely broke down. All of the stress and strain that I had bottled up throughout the ride just flooded out of me and I sobbed. Not the iconic, strong masculine cry either, but a blubbering shaking mess. That didn't matter though; I didn't care that the crowd around me could see me crying, or that there were at least 2 giant cameras pointing at me snapping away, or that I could barely hold my balance; I was surrounded by love and compassion and had successfully completed a 545 mile ride on a bicycle. If you didn't know already, bicycles have always scared me and at January of this I didn't really know how to ride one. If it weren't for all of the encouragement and kind words from my friends online and the unending support of my fellow riders I don't know if I would have been able to make it. No other event I have experienced even comes close to the level of love and compassion that this one contains. We all ride because we want to make the world a better place and because we have all been touched in some way, whether it be friends, family, partners, or personally, by this horrible disease. And so we support each other and when one of us falls there are instantly hands to help us up and push us on. If we could bottle up just a small amount of that kind of love and pass it around the world it would be a much better place. By the end of this ride we have raised a total of over $16.2 million dollars to help in this fight and we have brought joy to every town we passed though. This is why we ride, and thank you, everyone, for helping me to do so.

Crossing the finish line!!!!!!!!!!!
How we all feel.

ALC Day 6

    Today I woke up and said, oh my god, 90 miles. How am I going to do this!? I was so tired at 4:30 in the morning, and while we found out what was messing up my ankles, they're already strained and overstretched and I just couldn't see how I was going to make the distance. We headed out from Lompoc in the chilly morning air and made the slow trek towards the mountains. Just when I thought I couldn't do it anymore, we hit a long downhill that shot us through a canyon and gave a glorious view of the ocean. The first time I've seen it since crossing into the valley. The sight completely revitalized me and gave me a boost to make through to the lunch stop.

    At lunch I made a preemptive visit to the medic tent to get some stabilization wrapping for my legs and they basically turned me into a mummy!  When we reached Santa Barbara (the only town that's lets us direct the traffic...we love them) we were greeted by a wonderful ice cream social that the town has radio ally thrown for the riders. Santa Barbara has been close with the ride for many years, and is definitely one of the favorite stops for all of the riders.  
    And so I pedaled on and somehow made it into beautiful Ventura, which is definitely one of my favorite camps on the ride. It's settled on the beach and brushed by the cold ocean air. The sunlight warms you to just the righttemperature, and being sooooo close to home filled the air with positive energy. Tomorrow begins our last 64 miles, so the next time you hear from me I will have crossed the finish line!!

Ice cream at the Santa Barbara Paradise Pit

Today's mummy wrapping for my legs.

Me and fellow Zoic artist Ryan Reeb
rockin' it.

ALC Day 5

    Red dress day! On this day, everyone in the ride wears a ridiculous red outfit and cycles in it as a metaphor for eliminating the stigma against HIV positive people and saying, "we're in this together." When we are all spread out along the route it's almost like a giant red ribbon strung along the highway and it's awesome. Everyone said that this day was easy because it was only 46 miles, but they left out the part where it was 46 steep uphill miles!  Not to mention it was a very wet, drizzly, and super cold day to be wearing skimpy red dress :-p.
    There were some great moments, like the old guy in the Minnie costume playing guitar on the side of the road, and some really difficult and long climbs. The dresses we wore were all crafted by Gavin's mom and his adorable nieces, and we made quite a group pedaling down the road. I loved seeing all the children staring gawk-eyed at us as we traveled through the towns and I can only imagine what the inhabitants of the California State Penitentiary thought as we circled around the compound.
    In the morning I visited the medical tent and they did some crazy tape job on my legs, which in combination with the pedals Gavin put on my bike made a world of difference! I was able to pedal the whole way without injuring my ankles further. Even though it was a short day in mileage (46 miles), it was a very difficult route and I am so glad to be in camp early for some extended rest. Tomorrow we leave Lompoc and head to Ventura on the beach, and we are only 2 days away from the finish line!!!

Awesome tape job to help reduce the swelling in my ankles.

Our wonderful red dresses!

It was so cold at lunch they had to give out Mylar.

This guy was just awesome!

Gavin stopping to watch for riders who need help while
I have a small frustration break.

ALC Day 4

    Day 4 brought many challenges. First were the "Evil Twins:" a two pronged hill making a 6 mile climb up 1800 k. When we got to the top, however, we were greeted with cold ocean air, clouds (hallelujah!), and the halfway point to Los Angeles! I can hardly believe it, but yes, at the end of today we have cycled over 300 miles! There was a nice long downhill on the other side, but PLENTY of ups and downs to challenge our already fatigued legs.
    By lunch there was a setback for me: my ankles decided to swell up pretty bad and the medics very strongly advised me to take the bus to camp and miss out on the 2nd half of today's route. It pained me to do so, but I would rather rest and be able to finish the week than push too hard and be completely out. So, I took the SAGG bus for the last 48 miles and am icing up my ankles. Tomorrow is a short day (only 46 miles in total!) and is also red dress day! That means Gavin, his mom, and I will be cycling in the red dresses his two nieces helped make for the occasion, alongside 2500 other riders also in their own red dresses. It promises to be an exciting day!
All of us at the halfway point.

so excited!

ALC Day 3

    Today was Quad Buster day and boy did it bust me! I had to walk about half of it but the rest of the ride certainly made up for it. There were hills, there was head wind, there was an endless sun and blue sky, and there was a crazy dry heat. I must have gone through 20 bottles of water and my throat was still completely dry. I'm also starting to have a bit of trouble with my ankle but I'm hoping if I focus on my posture I can nip that before it becomes a bad problem. Tomorrow we FINALLY leave the desert and make our way back towards Santa Maria. Please send me your good wishes as we cross over the "Evil Twin" hills and arrive at the halfway point to Los Angeles!

The infamous $100 hamburger club

Today's height map for the Quad Buster
Crossing into the Paso Robles camp...Phew!

ALC Day 2

108 miles!!!
    Today was a landmark day for me. Not only is it the longest distance in one day that I will ride on the ALC, but it is also the furthest I have ever ridden on a bike. And the ride was not easy. In the beginning we faced some rolling hills as we exited Santa Cruz, and then we cut into the Central Valley of California for the majority of the day. As we dropped in altitude, the cold air diminished and left us in a clear ski with a hot sun and wind like you wouldn't believe. When the wind was behind us, I could coast uphill at a comfortable 15 miles an hour! But boy, when we hit a turn around a mountain and that tail wind became a headwind, we had to pedal like our lives depended on it.
    The physical challenges, however, were matched with some amazing ones. One was the artichoke stop that had the most amazing grilled, fried, and steamed artichokes. Even artichoke cupcakes (which were freaking amazing!). And then the water stop where a woman bakes thousands of cookies over an entire year, storing them in her freezer, and then gives them away to the riders for free. It is that kind of love and dedication that makes this ride worth it and fills my heart with gratitude.
    Now I am preparing myself for tomorrow's 62 miles ...uphill... on what has been lovingly named "the quad buster." Wish me luck!
Day 2 Camp

The 1st time all of use reached 100 consecutive miles on a bike!

108 miles complete!
The amazing Cookie Lady!

ALC Day 1

     83 miles later and I have successfully arrived at camp in Santa Cruz, CA!!!  We arrived at the Cow Palace at 5:30am this morning, experienced a moving opening ceremony with the presentation of a "riderless bike," which is a symbol for the millions who have been lost to HIV and the cause that the friends and loved ones continue to carry forward, and then hit the road.  The ocean views and the cliffs were absolutely astounding and the brisk cold air pushed me forward mile by mile.  But omg, the hills, and the hills, and the more hills that came.  I swear none of them ever went downhill!  But I conquered them and rode into camp triumphantly 9 hours later :). Now I'm stuffing my face at dinner and listening to the touching stories from today, and trying not to be afraid of the 108 mile ride tomorrow to King's City!  Wish me another triumphant ride tomorrow and I will send another update on my return!