After months of fund-raising and training, my fourth NorCal AIDS Cycle was here! After checking in at 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 quickly! This year, my stepdaughter Brenna was joining us a crew member, which was an added bonus.
Day 1 – Thursday, May 15 (Granite Bay-Loomis-Newcastle-Marysville-Gridley/103 miles) Somehow, I did manage to get some sleep, but 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 Brenna and me to Beals Point for the start.
When we arrived at Folsom Lake, things were already humming. Pictures taken, trucks loaded, television interviews, and lots of nervous energy abounded. I located the members of my team, the River City Roadies, and we took photos of our own. I had a bit of a panic attack when it came time to ride… my bicycle was not where I though I had left it. Five minutes later, I found it a few hundred feet from where I thought it was. I felt pretty dumb though.
At last it was time to be off, as eighty cyclists careened out of the driveway of Beals Point, with sixty strong support crew following. The weather forecast for the day was for extremely hot conditions in the afternoon. Already at 7:00 am, it was pretty warm. After a couple of short climbs I sailed into the first rest stop at the Old Fruitvale Schoolhouse in Newcastle. “Have you washed your hands?” was the oft repeated question at every rest stop. After a short break for snacks and topping up water bottles, we were off towards Camp Far West and Beale AFB. Finally at near the sixty mile point, we made our way into Marysville for an excellent lunch at Faith Lutheran Church.
It was soon time to get back on the road, as we headed towards Gridley. This section has some great scenery, but some of the roads had surfaces which appeared to have been left unmaintained since they were built, which made for some pretty hard riding. Our last rest-stop was at the Mendenhall Wool Ranch, where things were remarkably quiet. We finished up a long tiring day, riding into the Butte County fairgrounds in Gridley. A cool shower, tasty dinner, and a history lesson about HIV/AIDS finished up the day. I was tired but had a pretty good day.
Day 2 – Friday, May 17 (Gridley-Oroville-Durham-Willows-Williams/99 miles) I’ve always felt day 2 to be the most difficult day of the ride, and once more it lived up to its reputation. The morning is a lovely scenic ride, with a number of small climbs, and fun descents around Table Mountain. After a morning of steady riding, we stopped in the town of Durham for an early lunch. The afternoon is distinctly less scenic than the morning, with a lot of ramrod straight rural roads, another afternoon of hot temperatures, and always a headwind out of the south. Mid-way through the afternoon I arrived at the “halfway point” where I took a couple of photos, and then headed back out.
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. I had some pie, but to be honest, it seemed a little heavy in my gut on a hot windy afternoon.
One issue that has plagued me on long bike rides is that of “hot foot.” Wearing a shoe clipped to a pedal all day, can inflame the ball of the foot… starting with numbness, then a burning sensation, then intense pain. After chatting with a friend about it, as well as our road mechanic from Mike’s Bikes, I re-installed the cleat to a position on the shoe much further back, and it seemed to solve the problem on Day 3.
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 tasty 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 couple of 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 some riders, but really doable if one has the right state of mind. As I did last year, I adopted a slow steady pace, enough to keep going, but keeping the heart rate under control. A gnarly 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.
The rest of the day was a relatively flat but scenic ride into Woodland, pulling into Pioneer High School for our last evening.
Our evening program included a entertaining romp through some Beatles songs by the Sacramento Gay Mens Chorus, a couple of speakers from NCAC beneficiaries “The Sunburst Project,” and a well-deserved tribute to NCAC stalwart Jim McCann. 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 final day promised excellent conditions for riding. Indeed it was a beautiful day and I breezed through Winters and Davis, across the Yolo causeway, through West Sacramento, and into Crocker Park, our final meeting point. During the morning ride, I hadn’t seen many other riders, and got in my mind that I was way behind schedule. As I rode into Crocker Park, there were only half-a-dozen riders there… so instead of being behind, discovered I was among the first riders in!
What a emotional thrill it was to ride into Cesar Chavez Plaza 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 $330,000 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 ($7500 for me personally), and there are people in our community whose lives will be changed. To our exceptional 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, Adriana, and Brenna… 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 nearly $17,000). To my wife JoAnn 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.
More photos here