After months of training and fund-raising, crashing, ice packs, and planning, the NorCal AIDS Cycle was here!
Day 1 – Thursday, May 12(Folsom Lake to Gridley/97 miles) I’d set my alarm for 5:00 am, as we had to gather at Beals Point for the start of the ride at 6:15 am. Truth is, I didn’t need the alarm. I’d been awake for sometime before that, so hauled myself out of bed, pulled on my cycling kit, and stumbled into the kitchen to get the coffee on. As I got everything packed into the car, JoAnn and Justine got up too, and we drove out to Beals for the start of the ride.
When we arrived, it was a beehive of activity. Trucks being loaded… cyclists nervously chatting away and trying to stay warm… photos being taken… and television crews taking it all in. Though I had met a few of the people before, most were new to me, but would become friends as the days went on.
Finally at 7 am, we clipped into our pedals and were off. Starting with a chilly and hilly ride through Granite Bay, we made our way to the first rest stop at the old Fruitvale Schoolhouse in Lincoln. 22 miles down, 308 to go! We continued north past the Camp Far West reservoir, skirted the southern end of Beale AFB, and on through to Marysville for our lunch stop. I haven’t been to Marysville in quite a few years, and it has become a very weary looking town. After lunch we continued to travel north towards the towns of Live Oak and Gridley. That was where the first flat tire happened. I had a spare tube in my seat bag, and a couple of other riders stopped to keep me company as I changed the tire. I was a little concerned about the spare though… it already had a patch on it, and its adhesion looked a little dubious, but it seemed to hold air, so I continued on.
We stopped at the Live Oak Community center for our final rest stop of the day… hydrating with cold drinks, and taking in precious carbs for the last 18 miles of the day. When I came out to my bike, I noticed that the rear tire was flat, and it was obvious that patch wasn’t holding. A SAG driver called for the bike tech to come and bring me a new tube, which he did, but it was about a 45 minute wait. Whit changed the tire in a flash, and I was off, the last rider on the road.
I tore it up for that last segment, “time-trialing” the last 18 miles in a little over an hour. I was leapfrogged all the way back by one of our SAG vehicles (big thanks to Michael and Luis for watching out for me), and arrived at the Butte County Fairgrounds to thunderous cheers. I was told that I got the “caboose” award for the day. In the Tour de France, they call it the “Lantern Rouge,” the red jersey given to the last rider who perseveres to the end, knowing he’s in last place.
A (cold) shower and tasty dinner awaited… and sleep came quickly.
Day 2 – Friday the 13th (Gridley to Colusa/93 miles) With a 7:00 am start time each day, there was no sleeping in. My alarm went off at 5:30, and I got up and dressed, had coffee/breakfast, and finished packing. From Gridley we headed further north towards our first rest stop in Oroville. Early in the ride, a female rider pulled up behind me… “I don’t know who you are ahead of me, but you have the most beautiful calves….” It was the highlight of my day. Today was also Hawaiian Day… people were dressed up in all kinds of whacky outfits in remembrance of those we’ve lost to AIDS.
I had a minor fall, trying to clip into my pedals on a hill leaving Oroville, and twisted my back in the process. It bothered me a bit during the rest of the day (but came back with a vengeance after the ride was over).
The rest of the morning was great, scenic riding (the Sutter Buttes were close by throughout the day) as we headed north then east to our lunch stop at the Durham Community Park. I have to say… the meals on this trip were really excellent, and the salads we had for lunches were outstanding. After lunch, the route switched southwards as we made our way to Colusa. This was the most difficult part of the ride, as there was a stiff headwind coming from the south throughout the afternoon. The roads were pancake flat and arrow straight, and there was little relief from the relentless headwinds. The big toe on my left foot was having a lot of pain, and I realized that I had been unconsciously clenching my toes in an effort to fight the wind. That toe pain would continue to bother me the rest of the afternoon.
At this point I started thinking “what the heck am I doing out here??” All the self-doubt started to creep in. I was thinking “I’m not having a good time right now… I could just wave down a SAG vehicle and get a lift the rest of the way” (several riders had already done that). Then another little voice started whispering in my ear… “Go, Dewi, Go.” Ken was urging me on, and I remembered why I was doing this.
That evening as we relaxed at Colusa High School, I thought about the challenges I had on the ride that day, and I started to see it as a (very)small scale metaphor for the struggle someone with HIV/AIDS faces every day. Some days are better than others. Some days life is beautiful, and some days it’s a struggle to just get through. But life is worth living and sometimes you have to keep pedaling through the pain and difficulty to see those beautiful moments. I crawled into my sleeping bag that night with a renewed respect for those who struggle with this disease every day.
Day 3 – Saturday, May 14 (Colusa to Woodland/88 miles) Word on the street was that day 3 was by far, the most beautiful part of the ride. But the “seven-mile hill” was talked about in hushed tones… something we had to surmount before the beautiful part started. From Colusa we rode through Williams to the first rest stop. A number of riders were opting not to do “the hill,” but taking SAG down to the junction with highway 16. But I have no common sense so continued forward.
“The hill” wasn’t particularly steep, but the first section was narrow and winding, and there was a fair amount of traffic on a Saturday morning. And of course, that lovely headwind was blowing right down the hill, which made it seem much harder than it would’ve been. Climb it, I did… but I had stop to catch my breath several times. Once at the top, a exciting/scary/speedy downhill takes one to the junction with highway 16. Riding through this section was exceedingly enjoyable. It was mostly downhill, with some rollers… gorgeous scenery… much cooler than the previous days… and the best day of riding for me.
We pulled into Pioneer High School in Woodland for our last evening. What a fabulous campus. We had another tasty dinner… and a fabulous drag-queen show for entertainment. The prediction was for rain that evening, and the forecast was not left lacking.
Day 4 – Sunday, May 15 (Woodland-Winters-Davis-Sacramento/50 miles) Though it had rained during the night, it was fairly dry when we got up in the morning. Our real hope was that the weather would hold until our ride finished at the state capitol. Little did we know.,,
Since we were on a schedule for our finish at the Capitol at noon, the first group of us got an early start. As we headed towards Winters, a large rainbow appeared on the horizon. Ken was saying hello and urging me on to the finish. The weather was damp but not bad for our first rest stop with a little coffee from Steady Eddies in Winters. It rained a bit between Winters and Davis, then the fun began…
Literally as I pulled out of the Davis rest stop, the hail started falling. By the time our little group got to Mace Boulevard, the hail/lightning/thunder had reached biblical proportions. As I approached the Yolo Causeway, I was soaked through and cold, visibility was almost nil, and I couldn’t see the pavement. When a SAG vehicle pulled up next to me and offered a ride, I eagerly accepted.
The gracious folks at the Crocker Art Museum gave us a warm, dry room to gather and have some coffee and food, before we began the last stage of our ride. The weather started to clear as we lined up for our procession to the State Capitol, our moto crew leading the way. This was the most emotional part for me as we approached the Capitol building together, we lined up on the steps, and the sun came out. We’d done it together as a team, and raised a lot of money in the process.
Thank yous: I have many many people to thank. First of all, to all of the people who supported me financially in this endeavor. As of this date I raised $4440, and all of the riders and crew raised a record total in excess of a quarter-of-a-million dollars. Thanks also to the awesome moto crew for keeping us on track… the SAG crew… medical crew… and everyone who kept an eye out for us. To my fellow riders for your companionship, encouragement, and friendship over 330 miles, which I’ll never forget. To my friends Julie and Jane Anne who talked me into doing it. And to Ken, in whose memory I rode. And especially to my wife JoAnn and my family for their loving support.