After months of fund-raising and (not nearly enough) training, my third NorCal AIDS Cycle was here! After checking in a Mikes Bikes on Wednesday evening, I went to the Cathedral for my usual Wednesday rehearsal, then went home to attempt to get some sleep. 4:30 am was coming soon!
Day 1 – Thursday, May 16 (Granite Bay-Marysville-Gridley/101 miles) Somehow, I did manage to get some sleep, but wake-up time came quickly, and there was no point in putting off the inevitable. I pulled on my cycling clothes for the day, got the coffee going, and finished packing the car. Soon after, JoAnn and Justine got up to drive me to Beals Point for the start.
There’s this wonderful nervous energy at the start. Wardrobe/shoe adjustments… lots of photos taken… tv news crews… trucks being loaded. I located the members of my team, the River City Roadies, and we took photos of our own. At last it was time to be off, as one-hundred and fifteen cyclist careened out of the driveway of Beals Point and the ride began. The weather forecast for this day was a little dicey, but the amount of rain we had was very minimal, and actually felt pretty good and kept things cool. Before we knew it, we were at the first rest stop at the old Fruitvale Schoolhouse, and before noon we sailed into Marysville for our lunch stop at the Lutheran Church. Our lunch was just excellent… the quality we expect from Maranello’s, which in itself is a great reason to do the ride!
It was soon time to get back on the road, as we headed towards Gridley. This section has some great scenery, and is pretty enjoyable. Some of the roads were Paris-Roubaix worthy however, with road surfaces which appeared to have been left unmaintained since they were built. Our last rest-stop was at the Mendenhall Wool Ranch, where we were greeted by a couple of hippie throwbacks, and I obtained a disco-ball necklace, which was my bling for the rest of the ride. We finished up the day pulling into the Butte County fairgrounds in Gridley. A shower, dinner, and some real rain finished up the day. And sleep came quickly.
Day 2 – Friday, May 17 (Gridley-Oroville-Durham-Willows-Williams/99 miles) Day 2 is generally considered to be the most difficult day of the ride, and it lived up to its reputation. The morning is a lovely scenic ride, with a number of small climbs, and fun descents. These climbs seemed much easier this year… I guess losing thirty pounds really does help! We landed in Durham at the city park for a early lunch. After lunch, I rode with my River City Roadies teammates Julie and Dee Dee. The afternoon is less scenic than the morning, with a lot of ramrod straight rural roads, and incessant wind. Along the way, we hit the halfway point… 165 miles… posed for a photo, and then were back on our way.
Our last rest stop of the day was at the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge, an oasis along old highway 99. This is the highly touted “chai and pie” rest stop, and if you are pie lover, it was bliss. But we had twenty-five miles of riding left for the day. Dee Dee and I headed out for the last stretch together. Old highway 99 is long, straight, and dull. And we had a significant headwind the whole way, so it was slow and exhausting.
Finally we pulled into the high school in Williams for our second camp, ready to take those damned cycling shoes off, and get a shower. Another excellent dinner (fajitas & enchiladas) was followed by our evening program. The day concluded with a candlelight vigil to remember those we’ve lost to aids. The opportunity was given for people to give those remembrances out loud… mine included Ken Piercy, in whose memory I ride… and James Kennedy, the son of a friend. It had been a exhausting day, and it didn’t take much for me to get to sleep.
Day 3 – Saturday, May 18 (Williams-Woodland via Capay Valley/80 miles) The route on the third day is notable for a few things. First, the one real “climb” up highway 20, and for the exceptional scenery riding through Capay Valley/Cache Creek. The climb is a fairly steady grade for a full seven miles. It’s pretty intimidating for a lot of the less experienced riders, but really doable if one has the right state of mind. This year I had resolved to just go slowly and take my time, and keep my heart rate down as low as possible. I fell in with a group of four riders, and we pushed/pulled each other up the hill. And no stops for resting! A thrilling descent awaits on the other side, then a sharp turn onto highway 16 as the scenery just gets better and better. Our first real rest stop was at the Cache Creek regional park, and our lunch break at the Guinda fire station came shortly after.
As we got closer to Woodland, the terrain got flatter and windier. Before we knew it, we were pulling into Pioneer High School in Woodland for our last evening. I have to say, this was one of the best days I’ve ever had on a bike. Fun hilly riding with good scenery and companionship.
Our evening program included a very entertaining romp through some Abba songs by the Sacramento Gay Mens Chorus, and lots of awards which was just one big love-fest. I was privileged to be recognized as one of top five fund-raisers, having raised over $7000 and was recognized by my team as “El Capitan” of the River City Roadies. We all finally headed off to our beds for a night of sleep as we approached our last day.
Day 4 – Sunday, May 19 (Woodland-Winters-Davis-Sacramento/54 miles) The weather forecast for our last day was to be sunny and warm. But windy “gusts up to 35 mph.” I headed out with teammates Dee Dee and Julie in an early group, wanting to allow plenty of time to get to Sacramento. The wind predictions did not disappoint. Riding west we were pummeled by that north wind… at times I thought I’d be blown right off the road. It was pretty much a big drag. Finally, a left turn toward Winters gained us a killer tailwind, and we zipped into our first rest stop in Winters. The next leg took us along scenic Putah Creek Road to Davis for our final rest stop at the UCD fire station. Unfortunately, just before arriving at the rest stop, I miscalculated the stopping point for a rider in front of me, and took a tumble to the ground. Ah well… I guess it had to happen sooner or later!
The route markings leaving UC Davis were a bit confusing, but we finally got back on track… through the town of Davis, to a breezy crossing of the Yolo causeway, through West Sacramento, over the Tower Bridge (insert first set of tears here), and finishing up at Crocker Park. As riders continued to come into the park, it was photos and hugs and cheers and more tears. Finally, the time came to make the procession to the west steps of the State Capitol for the closing ceremonies.
What a emotional thrill it is to come into the Capitol with hundreds of people screaming and cheering… our families and friends, as we celebrated our achievement: riding three-hundred and thirty miles together, and raising over $325,000 to benefit agencies in our area, serving those suffering from HIV/AIDS. I joined my family and returned home happy and thrilled to be a part of this amazing and unique community.
Thank yous First of all, I want to thank all of you who supported this ride financially. We raised a record amount of money this year, and there are people in our community whose lives will be changed. To our awesome support crew… moto riders, rest stop staff, medical staff, and everyone who watched our backs and got us home safely. To my fellow riders for your friendship, companionship, and encouragement. Especially to my River City Roadies teammates… Julie, Jane Anne, Dee Dee, Susan, and Kellie… you mean more to me than you will ever know. And to Eileen Thomas and the River City Food Bank for sponsoring our little team (who raised more than $17,000). To my wife and family for their incredible support through all of the fund-raising, training rides, and endless chatter about NCAC. And especially to my friend Ken, in whose memory I rode.
Next year is the tenth anniversary of NorCal AIDS Cycle. Won’t you join us??