Paul Schindler's Aids Fundraising Ride Journal

Paul Schindler's Aids Fundraising Ride Journal

Posted July 5, 1997

Day Zero, Saturday May 31, 1997

In the parlance of the California Aids Ride 4 presented by Tanqueray (henceforth, the ride), this is Day Zero. At 7:30 a.m., I ride my bike to the Orinda BART station, and take the train to Embarcadero. From there, I ride to Noah's Bagels on Chestnut Street via the Embarcadero (not the longest route, but the flattest), where I meet my tentmate and training partner, Richard Dalton. There's a 20-minute line for bagels at 8:30. Richard marvels at the line.

We ride together to the Fort Mason center in San Francisco, opposite the Marina Safeway.

There, starting at 9 a.m., registration begins. Bikes from Los Angeles are assembled and distributed. They, along with bikes from San Francisco, are inspected for safety and soundness and left in the secure bike parking area overnight.

First, we go to Life on the Water Theater and watch an hour-long safety video. It is substantially revised from previous years, and is missing the famous line "Boom, you're dead." Still, it is a very sober presentation. We are told of the many ways we can be kicked off the ride. One of them is failing to stop at stop signs and stop lights. "Don't be the first to test us" on this rule, we are advised. We have to stay for the entire video. If we leave the room to answer nature's call, we have to watch it over from the start. Only people who have seen every minute of the video are granted orange wristbands, much like the bands you get in the hospital. These grant you access to your bike, and to food and services on the road. The bands are checked every day. I will wear this band continuously for the next eight days. Later that afternoon, Jason Strykowski says he assumed I'd been in the hospital when he saw it.

The next step is for the pledge office to confirm you've made your numbers. I had $2,700 in pledges (thanks to some generous CMPers), so I skipped the two-hour line you had to stand in if you were short of your required $2,500. A number of people held up signs looking for help with their pledges. Being financially sound netted me a red armband (blue for Los Angeles riders) that had my registration number on it. I was now officially 2845. So was my bicycle. There was also a green band for vegeterians.

There was a shop selling insignia gear. I purchased a kerchief and an official Aids Ride short-sleeved spandex bicycle jersey, with "Eat, Sleep, Ride" on the shoulder. It is probably the last bicycle jersey I will every buy.

I retrieved my bike from temporary storage, passed the safety inspection, and parked in row HH for overnight storage.

I had a quiet final night at home. At one time, I had considered sleeping on Richard's couch, so I would be in the city for the 6 a.m. start of Day 1. Vicki convinced me I would sleep better in my own bed at home. She is not a morning person, so our friend David Strykowski agreed to drive me into the city, with a 5:15 a.m. departure on Sunday.

Marlow, my older daughter, was out at a party. Rae, my younger daughter, and Vicki and I played trivia, and ate strawberries and yogurt ice cream. I finished my packing, checking, double-checking and triple checking the single large duffel bag we were allowed to bring. I tried to follow my rule to never pack more than I could carry by myself, but I had to bring a sleeping bag, air mattress and a week's worth of clothes. I could carry my own bag, barely.

I went to bed at 10, and woke briefly when Marlow came home from her party at 11. I set my alarm for 4:30.

Day 1, Sunday June 1, 1997

87.6 miles, San Francisco to Harvey West Park, Santa Cruz


Alas, it was 4:30 p.m. I was lying in bed with my eyes closed, when suddenly a thought ran through my head. "It's 4:30." I opened my eyes and checked the clock. It said 4:35. I quickly discovered my AM/PM error (an all too common error, I must confess), and jumped out of bed. I was easily able to get to the Strykowski's by 5:15, and we arrived at Ft. Mason by 5:45. I had a banana and some yogurt for breakfast. They offered bagels--they offered bagels every morning on the ride, but I wanted to limit myself to food I figured I could easily digest.

Opening ceremonies were pretty impressive. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who is late to everything, was on time for our 7 a.m. start and rode a couple of blocks with us. I wonder if we were his first appointment of Sunday morning or his last appointment of Saturday night. Dalton shook hands with him as he went by. Although I've seen his picture a million times, I didn't recognize him until he was gone. A riderless bicycle was pushed to the front to represent all the people lost to the AIDS epidemic. The 2,700 riders raised $9.5 million, about half of which goes to AIDS charities (after overhead from the ride). You can argue that the overhead is high, or you can argue that this was $4.5 million that wouldn't have been raised otherwise. I prefer to view it as the latter.

There were literally thousands of people at Ft. Mason, and all the San Francisco TV stations were there to mark our departure. The route was lined with people in San Francisco, cheering us on. The density of cheering bystanders decreased, but never to zero, all the way to Santa Cruz. It's a nice thing to do, to stand by the side of the road, hold up signs and cheer people on. I think it is probably going to be the limit of my participation next year, but I will do it, because it felt good. Vicki, who ran the London Marathon, told me there wasn't a block in the 25 miles where there weren't bystanders cheering her on. A lot of people by the side of the road sought and received (at least from me) high fives as we rode by them.

We had been warned about the need for hydration--that is, drinking both water and Gatorade. In fact, water alone is not enough. If you drink just water, you could actually "drown," because, without electrolytes, your body can't process the water. I alternated water and Gatorade throughout the ride. At the start of the ride, I felt rather neutral about Gatorade. By the end of the ride, when I had consumed perhaps 60 liters of Gatorade, I had developed a serious distaste for the stuff. The medical staff told us that if we weren't urinating, we weren't drinking enough. I was a poster boy for hydration all week. This stems in part from dehydration that knocked Dalton off the ride on the first day last year.

My goals were simple. I wanted to finish each day safe, healthy and as comfortable as possible. This is a ride, not a race, so I also wanted to finish each day in the middle of the pack. I achieved all of these goals.

The first day, the weather was great. I overshot a little on the Gatorade, consuming 12 liters. I never drank more than 9 on any day after the first. The high temperatures were in the 70s. We had tail winds and cooling clouds. The weather couldn't possibly be better. Last year, the temperatures were in the 90s and 100s for the whole ride. On the first day, we rode through San Francisco and down the SF Peninsula to State Route 92, over the coast range to Highway 1 and down Highway 1 to Santa Cruz.

I had a tertiary goal of staying in the moment and really experiencing the sights and sounds of the ride, to not spend the whole trip looking at pavement or the seat of the rider in front of me. I discovered this was impossible, but I maintained the goal and did the best I could.

As I write up the notes from the trip, I also notice that I had a lot of notes from Day 1 (87.6 miles), then gradually fewer and fewer notes until the last day--and those notes I wrote up a day late. I can see why the distances are front-end loaded.

In San Francisco proper, once we were out of Golden Gate park (cool breezes, eucalyptus, large crowds cheering us on), there were few sights and most of the smells were unpleasant. We passed through Colma, the city of the dead, which consists mostly of cemeteries. We pedaled down quiet tree-lined streets (mostly El Camino Real) in the ritzy peninsula communities of Burlingame and Woodside, among others.

The hill to the Crystal Springs Reservoir is 6 miles of upgrade (followed, as it happens, by six miles of downgrade). Some people called it the worst hill of the ride, but frankly, every major grade on the ride has someone who calls it the worst hill of the ride. In some sense, they're all bad, and in another sense none of them are as bad as Tunnel Road in Oakland, which I rode twice during training. There was no shame in getting off your bike and walking it up the hill, but as it happens, I didn't have to do that on any of the hills, this day or any other day.

There are five pit stops and 1, 2 or 3 water stops every day, about 16 miles apart. Another of my commitments was to stop at EVERY pit stop, no matter how good I felt. No "macho" for me. Some people rode past most pit stops and arrived at camp early. I felt sure this would not improve the way I felt at the end of the day. At a pit stop, you could have fruit, Gatorade water and Power Bars. There were also portable toilets, bike repair people and a medical team at every pit stop. I mean, if you're going to ride from SF to LA, this is the way to do it.

Lunch was always Pit Stop 3. Today it was chicken salad sandwiches, Sun Chips, and Grandma's brand fruit-filled cookies--a childhood favorite of mine I haven't seen in years. For drinks, there were two choices: water and Gatorade.

Highway 1 has surprisingly wide shoulders for the most part. It never felt unsafe. It is a beautiful road, with gently rolling hills and lovely wide ocean views for miles at a time. No wonder it has inspired movies and songs. South of Pescardero, there was nothing between the Pacific and us.

We hit our first heavy traffic on the streets of Santa Cruz as we rode the last few miles to the park.

One of the safety rules was that we had to say "Passing on your left," or at least "On your left" whenever we passed another bicyclist. Most of the riders obeyed this rule. There were times when I was struggling, and the chorus of "on your left" felt like an assault or an insult. But most of the time, it was just good bike riding practice. There were, of course, the speed-demon lunatics who simply blew past you, but they were the exception, not the rule.

I threw out a rib and hyperextended my knee the first day, but fortunately there were chiropractors in the medical area, and they fixed both problems. Still, on their advice and that of the medical people, I took 800 mg of Advil three times a day for the rest of the trip to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Thank goodness for Advil!

About two hours, or 20 miles into the ride, my odometer/speedometer stopped working. I couldn't figure out why. In another 10 miles, I looked down and found out why. Modern electronic bike speedometers are called "calculators" and they are removable. Mine removed itself, and fell out somewhere on the road. I didn't even have a watch; I was planning on using the watch in my "calculator" to clock myself and insure that I was maintaining a proper pace.

I could have purchased a new one from the bike repair people in camp, but I convinced myself that "flying blind" would keep me in the moment, and would cause me to ride at my own natural pace, rather than some pace dictated by the clock or the speedometer.

So, I can't tell you my average speed, or how much time I spent in pit stops each day. All I can tell you is that I made it to the starting line on the first day at 7:45 a.m. (and because of the crowd of bikers, walked my bike most of the first two miles) and finished at 4:15 p.m. So I did the 87 miles in 8.5 hours, which turns out to be a good precursor for the entire week's ride. My effective pace, including stops, was about 10 miles an hour, on the average. No matter what the terrain, that figure held all week.

Richard and I tried to stay together. In fact, I was with him through lunch, but there was a steep rise outside of Pit Stop 3, and I lost sight of him. We met up again at each pit stop and rolled in together. As the week went on, it was clear he was about 10% faster than I was. Over a 10-hour riding day, that amounts to an hour.

Day 2, Monday June 2, 1997

104.6 miles, Santa Cruz to San Lorenzo Park in King City


I had ridden 97 miles before, but this was my first "century," my first 100-mile ride. It wouldn't be my last; not even my last of this week.

In the morning, on the ride out of Santa Cruz, we went past a brick house with a cement fence that still had its Christmas lights in place. It was the most interesting visual thing I saw.

We spent most of the day riding through the Salinas Valley, commonly known as America's Salad Bowl. They grow a lot of lettuce, artichokes, strawberries, peppers and other fruits and vegetables here. It was very windy. I thought of the large cotton screen on the coast of Barbados, where scientists have found that the wind which flows, unimpeded, from Africa to the Caribbean carries with it Sahara sands and camel dung. I felt sure that everything that became airborne at the north end of this valley was quickly carried all the way to the south, because it is not built up, and is unbroken by any structure taller than one story for as far as the eye can see. It reminds me of the Midwest in that regard. I entered the valley after a relatively easy 200-foot rise, and it spread out before me. I could see the mountains at the edge of the valley, of course, but this was a big, flat bowl, and I could see all four sides.

We rode for miles on River Road, which, as far as I could tell, neither ran near nor towards a river. It was the line of demarcation between flat farmland on the left (as we rode east) and the foothills on the right, which were grazing areas for livestock. Eventually, the road swung into the valley and the foothills were farther and farther away to our right.

One of my tertiary goals was to get a better sense of California on this ride. I am a native of Oregon, and spent my first 18 years there. I then spent a decade in the east, and have lived in California since 1979. But I don't really know this state, where my wife and my children were born. I met this goal, and learned that California is big, hot and flat in the middle, and largely agricultural.

We also spent a lot of time on Monterrey County Road 617. The county board of supervisors should hang their heads in shame. Yes, I know this is a county farm road and not a super highway, but it was more like a washboard than a road. It was in terrible shape, especially compared to Highway 1. On the other hand, it had about 1 car an hour on it, other than the vehicles associated with the ride: an ambulance from UCLA and sweep vans (pickups and minivans looking for broken-down riders).

There were numerous rolling hills, and a lot of switchbacks. Switchbacks aren't necessarily good psychologically, as you can see the long line of riders ahead of you struggling up a long rise. It is hard to imagine how long our line of riders must have been--maybe 10 miles. Of course, the line of riders wasn't continuous, but if you stood at any one spot past the halfway point, you could watch 2,700 riders go by you for about 4 hours.

Just outside of Greenfield, there was a single-lane bridge, underneath which a number of the 20-something-male riders chose to skinny dip. Both for reasons of propriety, and because I was insecure about my ability to finish in a reasonable time, I passed on the opportunity.

I was hoping for a lot of different sounds on the ride, but there weren't all that many today. I heard some birds, mostly seagulls near the ocean. There weren't many trees, so there weren't many birds. I heard the ocean, but we turned inland pretty early in the day. I like the sound of the ocean. I wish we had heard more. When there's nothing but bikes on a road, you can hear a car coming up from behind from a long ways off. Actually, bicycle wheels, in large numbers, make a hum you can hear quite distinctly on a quiet country road.

You quickly learn to distinguish between the "get out of my way you stupid bicyclist" honk (a long, single blast followed by a rushing car), and the "wow, we're impressed" honk, usually a short series of honks, followed by a slowly passing car with people waving. I really understood the bicyclist motto, "We're not a traffic hazard. We're traffic."

I heard "passing on your left" in a bewildering variety of accents.

Wind whistling through power lines is not a sound you commonly hear in urban areas, but you hear it a lot in rural areas. Also, the humming sound high-voltage lines make in the fog.

The vineyards had windbreaks composed of stands of trees. I'd hear a wind sound, but I wouldn't feel any wind. It appears there was wind 40 feet off the ground, going through the tops of the trees. It was haunting and eerie. I just wish it had been cooling me off. Hearing wind without feeling it is an odd experience.

The winds were up around 30 miles an hour in the late afternoon. Usually they were head winds, only rarely tail winds. Sometimes they came from the side so hard you had to lean into the wind. This created an unusual effect when a long truck passed by; the truck would block the wind you'd been leaning into, and you would tend to swerve into the road. You learn to compensate.

In Santa Cruz, there were a number of eucalyptus trees; I love their smell. There were also some horse paddocks. I am here to tell you that even horse manure smells a WHOLE lot better than whatever it is they fertilize strawberry fields with. Sometimes I would go for miles and just smell dirt. There was some wooden field trash being burned, and I liked that smell, even if it is carcinogenic. Road kill gets pretty ripe out on county roads.

The sun is a palpable presence out here. I work indoors, so I don't get much sun. In fact, I was wearing a long-sleeved bike jersey and long bike pants every day in an effort to avoid really serious burning. I wore 45 sun screen on my face and neck. I managed to get through the whole ride without a serious sunburn, although it became harder when, on the fourth day, I developed heat rash and had to start wearing a short-sleeved jersey.

You know how snow can dampen all the sound and make things very quiet? I now wonder if Sun can have the same effect, especially when there are no trees, no mountains, no hills, no shade for as far as the eye can see. Not even any crickets or cicadas. It just seemed VERY quiet out there. In the Willamette valley of Oregon, where I was raised, shade is impossible to avoid. In Orinda, where I live, it is difficult to avoid. In the Salinas valley, it is impossible to find, which seemed quite odd indeed. Of course, farmworkers were out in the heat and sun all day, on a day when, under normal circumstances, I would have been indoors sitting directly in front of my air conditioner.

Intellectually, I thought riding for 10 hours a day would be the most boring activity of my life. And yet, I found the time flying. Perhaps it was because I was in the moment. They warned us about that in the safety video. "Don't daydream. If you daydream you're dead. Stay Alert. Stay Alive." By the way, we had some broken bones, but once again, for the fourth year in a row, no fatalities.

I have a bad left knee--all the cartilage was removed after a high-school wrestling injury. Fortunately, bike riding is a low-impact sport. Still, I was feeling twinges.

Camp tonight, as every night, included portable showers in big vehicles the size of moving vans, hundreds of portable toilets (lines, but not intolerable lines), and food service, prepared to serve a hot meal and a cold can of soda (Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Orange Slice, Lemon-Line Slice. Well, at least it wasn't Gatorade). We had to set up a two-man tent in space B-12 every night, and pick up our gear from the gear truck, whence we returned it every morning, along with our disassembled tent. The biggest problem each night was getting oriented; where is B-12, the gear truck, the tent truck, the showers, the food, the toilets. Each park was different.

Dinner was spaghetti with meat sauce.

Everything from my neck down pretty much felt as though it had been beaten with a ball-peen hammer. This feeling got worse every night until the fourth day, when it broke, and I was in less pain for each day after that.

Sunset was 8:30. Camp rules required no loud noise after 9:30, and that's when most people wen to sleep. It is amazing how well you can sleep with a decent air mattress (self-inflating in my case) and a case of total physical exhaustion. Normally, I hate sleeping on the ground. On this trip, I scarcely noticed.

Day 3, Tuesday, June 3

77 miles, King City to the Midstate Fairgrounds, Paso Robles


I never thought I'd live to see the day when 77 miles on a bike seemed like a short day, but it did. After yesterday, it seemed like a godsend.

People who drive from SF to LA on 101 generally consider Paso Robles to be the unofficial halfway point.

I brought an alarm clock, but I didn't really need it, because I was surrounded, just feet away, by a galaxy of alarm clocks that started going off at about 4:30 and went off every few minutes until 5. I don't think anyone really got much sleep at camp after 4:30.

Breakfast was served starting at 5 a.m., and that's about when Dalton and I ate each day/ It was pretty much the same every morning. Oatmeal, yogurt, a banana, some eggs and a breakfast meat. The mean changed each day; link sausage, ham, patty sauage, and so on.

The route opened at 6:30 every day; you weren't allowed to start earlier. This gave the volunteer crew of 500 a chance to drive out ahead of us and set up Pit Stops and water stops. There was also the road marking crew, which drew arrows on the road in orange spray paint to mark the route. They started each day at 3:30 a.m. They also paid $50 each for the privilege of serving us riders and sleeping in tents and sleeping bags.

Today the twinges in my right knee (not even my bad knee) turned to sharp pain just above the kneecap. At Pit Stop 3, I asked the medical team what the problem was. They diagnosed it as a tendon starting to pull loose, and said I was riding too hard. Well, I was riding too hard, trying to keep up with Dalton. As I said before, he's about 10% better than I am. Doesn't seem like much, but it seemed to be making the difference for my knee. It took an hour of waiting in line, but I had me knee wrapped in an ace bandage. And I took the doctors' advice: slow down a little. Don't pass so much.

There was a near revolt at this stop, by the way, because all lunches were veggie lunches: wild rice salad and three-bean salad. The omnivores were up in arms. The volunteers put up a hand-lettered sign: "We didn't pick the menu."

I passed one field where they must have been growing green beans. I picked green beans as a boy. These weren't mature, but I know what a field of green beans smells like in the early morning (we always picked before noon). I heard my first (and last) crickets.

There was a very long hill on this day. It wasn't marked on the map, it didn't have a name, no one warned us about it, but it was still long.

Yesterday was hot and windy. Today was hot and still. When you're riding with a helmet on, it is as if your breath gathers in a hot cloud around your face. You could cut it with a knife.

We spent 12 miles on the shoulder of US Highway 101 today. It's a wide road, rarely traveled in these parts, with great shoulders.

Dinner was sweet and sour chicken and cooked carrots. I hate cooked carrots.

The mileage for this day doesn't seem so great, but the notes I took are really minimalist. I went to bed at 6:30 and slept through. I was tired and sore.

Remarkably, we had the Southern Pacific mainline and highway 101 running within yards of camp. I never heard the traffic or the trains.

Day 4, Wednesday June 4, Paso Robles to Preisker Park, Santa Maria

95.8 miles 6:30-3:45

I notice that in the dry cereal section, they have nothing but pre-sweetened cereals, including one that has monumentally stupid commercials. I try a box of French Toast Squares instead of oatmeal. It's not as bad as I expected.

For the first time, we ride out with the early birds. It's like Day 1, or the Bay to Breakers. You can be at your bike at 6:15, and you can move forwards at 6:30, but unless you're real aggressive, you don't get out the door until 6:40 or so.

The route has changed since last year because of a washed out road near a reservoir. Thus, the collective unconscious (there are a lot of repeat riders) has not prepared us for part of the route. On Highway 46 just before Highway 1, there is a three-mile uphill grade (would I mention a downhill grade?) that I estimate at 5-6 percent. It is followed by a three mile downgrade at 6%, which is normally swell, but difficult today because of a brief but heavy rain squall (the only rain on the trip; one year it rained for an entire day of the ride). Although difficult, both absolutely and because we didn't know it was coming, it was STILL less strenuous than Tunnel Road. Besides, this is a ride, not a race.

Richard's life, Linda, has a word for such hills. She calls them AFOG , Another Flipping Opportunity for Growth.

The agony of the grade was ALMOST compensated for by the beautiful view of the ocean and Morro Bay from the top of the hill. It is amazing to look at the distant, fog-shrouded silhouette of Morro Bay and realize we're going to be there, by bicycle, by lunchtime.

Lunch was curry chicken, one of my favorites, on a croissant. The veggie meals have not arrived, but since we're in a Payless Drug Store parking lot, the quick-thinking volunteers run out and get peanut butter and jam. The veggie riders are not impressed. We arrive at lunch at 10:30 am because of some quirk of the schedule and the pit stop spacing; there is a McDonald's next door, and it is still serving breakfast. I am tempted by all the Egg McMuffins around me, but decide to go with the free, somewhat healthier food.

At mile 75 is a half-mile hill known as "Agony Grade." It isn't as steep is Rheem Boulevard, which I did twice a week for the last three weeks I trained. I mean, it's steep. A lot of people walked it. But it was short. It was extra fun while I was on it, because two school buses were going past each other on it while I was riding up it. In an effort to encourage others, some of the better rides go up the grade, then down it and up it again as many as a half-dozen times. If it were somewhere else but mile 75; if this was something less than an almost-century, I might have gone up a second time myself. Yeah. Right.

We passed through Pismo Beach. Quite a moment for a Warner Brothers cartoon fan. I am sure you'll recall that in most Bugs Bunny travel-based cartoons, the cartoon begins with him burrowing along just under the ground like a mole. He pops up, often in the company of Daffy Duck, looks around and says, "Hey, this ain't Pismo Beach." He then consults a map, and says either "We shudda taken that right turn at Albuquerque," or else that he shouldn't have taken it. So, Pismo Beach, a quaint and beautiful coastal town which, it turns out, Vicki saw often as a girl, had a special resonance for me as I rode through it.

The third water stop is in a former mission. It is a lovely place. It was only 10 miles from the end, and I almost skipped it (it is OK to skip water stops, just not pit stops). It was cool and refreshing thanks to the century-old trees. It was a pleasant break. Sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses, even on a 95-mile day. Alas, the eager volunteers told us we were three miles from the end. We were 10 miles from the end. That hurt.

I still don't hear many birds, but I get hours of ocean waves, one of my favorite sounds.

Today's smells include fear. When you're going down a rain-slicked 6% grade, you can smell fear. Later, when it's hot, you smell a lot of asphalt, especially near the repairs. I smelled strawberries (which I like) and Brussels Sprouts (which I don't) as well as broccoli (which leaves me neutral). There were burnt fields along several miles of our route. I like burning wood. Burnt dirt is not such a pleasant smell.

Dinner is an all-veggie affair, tri-color cheese-filled pasta in Alfredo sauce with tomatoes and zucchini. I hate zucchini. Well, I'm not here for the food.

Day 5, Thursday June 5, Santa Maria to Cachuma Lake Recreation Area

50.3 miles 7:00-1:00

This is the day where they cut us some slack. We are more than half way. For me, this was the day when the pain, stiffness and soreness in my legs started to easeup. We had a bird symphony at dawn today, our first of the trip. I like being awakened by bird song. The fog was thick, so the power lines were really humming.

It is sad to say that the central fact of this trip was bike riding, and I don't have the words to truly describe the experience of riding 8 to 10 hours a day. After a time, it becomes a mechanical act, yet it must always be a mindful mechanical act. You can't run into the other riders, and there are always other riders when you have 2,700 people on the same route. You can't ride into traffic. You have to change gears in response to the terrain. You have to pay attention to route markings. So, you're in the moment, and your legs are moving up and down, which doesn't actually occupy your entire brain, but you're not supposed to use your brain for anything else. I'll say this about it; it kept my mind off everything else in my life. For seven days, I didn't think about my job, the new house we are building, or my family (except when I called them from camp each night). I thought about drinking to prevent dehydration, shifting to prevent blowing my knee out, and stopping to prevent exhaustion. That was it.

The hills here are covered with grass and grazing livestock. Dalton tells me that not a blade of the grass here is native; it was all brought in my Spanish and American settlers.

Lunch came quite early, and was held at the Zaca Mesa Winery, a breathtaking site with a tree-shaded courtyard and a low-affect dog, who seemed very much at peace among the chaos. People were posing for pictures with a man dressed as the good witch from the Wizard of Oz. Lunch was sliced turkey sandwiches and potato salad.

One of the reasons today was short is that it contains two major hills, the 0.4-mile Heartbreak Hill, at mile 29.4, and 0.6-mile "The Wall" just five miles later. These are famed as the two toughest hills on the ride. They are nothing compared to the as-yet unnamed hill on Day 4, but when you name something (and cite it on the map, and warn people about it, and place it in the middle of the shortest day on the route), you give it a talismanic power. There were cheerleaders at the top of both hills, and riders going up and down them over and over to support people. I turned in a competent performance on both hills, and even stopped for a fruit smoothie ($3) at the top of the second one.

We passed a hot springs that was offering free admission to AIDS riders, but I was insecure about finishing, despite the short day, and I also wondered if I could soak in a hot spring and then actually get back on my bike. It would have been difficult.

I got tired of saying "on your left." Also, I noticed I was mostly passing people on downhill grades, so I started saying "On your left, converting potential to kinetic energy," and "On your left, Big Guy Partying with Gravity." I also said "Gravity-Assisted Big Guy, on your left."

More people each day are being swept in (because of mechanical failure) or sagged in (because they arrive too late at a pit stop).

Lake Cachuma was stunningly beautiful, and amazingly windy. There was a steady 30 mile an hour wind the whole time we were there. I got my only bad nights sleep in Cachuma, as the tent flapped against my head all night.

Critical issues each night at camp: how to find your tent. We tied our scarves to the top, but lots of people did that. Fortunately, the tent next to ours had battery-operated Santa Christmas lights on it. If I were going to ride again (I'm not), I'd bring something like that along to identify my tent. Also critical was the location of the nearest bathroom. In the immortal words of our medical director, "If you don't pee at least once in the night, you're not drinking enough." I was drinking enough.

This was the only day I had time and energy to read in camp. And then dinner. WOW! Hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers, corn on the cob and apple pie for dessert. Finally.

I don't usually stay for the whole evening's entertainment, so I am baffled the next day, when people start sporting tags on their helmets. SU, SA, GU, GA, BU, BA. There have been complaints that single people would like to meet other single people. The preponderance of gay and lesbian riders makes this awkward. So, Single Unavailable, Single Available, Gay Unavailable, Gay Available, Bi Available and Bi Unavailable. The assumption is: tagless means unavailable. I was tagless. And surprised by some of the tags.

A lot of riders wear hand-made stickers, "I fantasize about the UPS Gal." Some of them are even men. UPS has contributed several dozen trucks, and there are lots of volunteer UPS personnel, in uniform, in the camps and the pit stops, burning off vacation time to help us.

Day 6, Friday, June 7 Cachuma Lake to Ventura

90 miles 6:30-9:30

At last, it finally feels like the ride may end some day, even some day soon.

Breakfast meat is bacon.

We ride for miles past the Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club, including its four incredibly well maintained polo fields (they look like golf greens the size of football fields).

We are directly next to the ocean for the 20 miles south of Carpenteria. There was nothing between the road and the water except railroad tracks, and they were only there some of the time.

A hot-dog stand owner in Carpenteria came to one of our pit stops and gave away free hot dogs and red vines. The perfect foods.

It is amazing how many bolts and spark plugs you see by the side of the road.

The beauty of a view is relative to the angle and steepness of the slope you're on when you see it.

I had never been to Solvang, the Danish-themed tourist town. It was cute, and the avenue of stately trees which grow along both sides of the road into town were impressive, and useful (the whole middle of this state could use more shade). We stopped at Pea Soup Anderson's in Buelton, a California tourist landmark. We had a pit stop in their parking lot. They weren't open, so I still haven't had their pea soup.

Thirty miles on the shoulder of 101. There's more traffic down here, and a stiff cross wind, but the road is good, the shoulder is wide, and most of the riders were not passing in a crazy fashion.

Sign on a fence: avocado theft is a crime, penalty $1,000. Silly me, I thought all theft was a crime.

Riding through urban Santa Barbara meant a lot of stop signs and stop lights, but was relieved by purple flowering Jacaranda overhanging the streets. We rode through the grounds of the Santa Barbara Biltmore (a classic and famous resort hotel), where I once took my mother-in-law, Lynne, for lunch. We heard later that three riders stopped for high tea, and were comped. Whew!

Lunch is chicken salad, again.

Camp is at San Buenaventura State Beach in Venture. Right on the ocean. The water's warm, but I don't go in. My towel isn't drying all that well, I don't have trunks, and I don't have the form for skinny dipping.

Dinner is roast chicken, with ice cream for dessert.

Day 7, Saturday June 7. Ventura to Century City

65.1 miles. 7:30-1:30

This is my fastest day--it really is, finally, mostly downhill. They ask us to wear our AIDS ride tee-shirts or official jerseys. I look at the slogan: eat, sleep ride. I realize that if you leave out ride, I have become my cat.

It is cloudy all day--the clouds never break. Along the coast, it is foggy and windy. To me, this is perfect biking weather. Large parts of the route are flat as a billiard table--the first time this has happened on the trip. Early in the morning, we ride by the Oxnard Shores Mobile Home Park, a property owned by my wife's family which I have only seen once before. It looks much larger from a bicycle.

We are warned that this is the most dangerous day of the ride. We are going to be on the Pacific Coast Highway most of the day. It is a narrow, windy, hilly road with LOTS of parked cards, whose rapidly opening doors are a major hazard. The shoulders are either narrow or non-existent for miles at a stretch. We apparently take the warning to heart, as no one is injured.

The Pacific Coast Highway runs next to the Pacific for the most part, although it dives inland for the run over the Santa Monica Mountains.

The day is deliberately kept short so we can all spend several hours on a Beverly Hills High School football field; this allows the organizers to muster us for the final victory rollout, to the closing ceremony four blocks away--at the top of one last hill.

I kill an hour by walking to the diner across the street from the Friar's Club and having a vanilla shake. It is the best vanilla shake I have ever had.

We are asked to pick a shirt color, and told we'll be riding with other people of that color. Red is my favorite, but I want to ride in with Dalton, who insists the yellow is less revolting. We wear yellow.

There is a lovely, slightly overlong closing ceremony. Vicki, Rae and my sister-in-law Pamela, along with her boyfriend Frank, have come to see me. They actually spot me in the crowd! We wave. The ceremony ends. I rush my bike to the shipping area, grab my duffel bag (which now seems to weigh about 400 pounds), use the restroom in the nearby shopping center, and head to my mother-in-law's home in Pacific Palisades for a tepid bath full of Epsom salts and a long night's sleep on a real bed.