The Livestrong ride - a person reflection
The 2011 Livestrong Davis turned out to be a very inspiring weekend of events.
Thanks to the generosity of Team Fatty, we were invited to the Saturday night awards dinner at the beautiful outdoor setting of the U.C. Davis "Good Life Garden".
The "Meet and Greet" featured lots of organic nibblies and some superb Rodney Strong Cabernet. The first person I met in the reception line was the woman who runs Twin Six (distributor of the fine Team Fatty Jerseys and gear), and she was a delight to talk with. Team Fatty was out in full force, and I got to meet several riders from various parts of the country. I also spent about 15 minutes talking with Fatty himself (Eldon Nelson) and the "Runner" (Lisa). Talk about some of the nicest people; even though he's quite the celebrity these days, Eldon was "just another guy" - very unpretentious and just an absolute pleasure to talk with. Despite his self-deprecating writings, he's someone who definitely has his act together and really knows how to leverage his writings (and media) to "massively" support the noble efforts to fight cancer.
When we assembled for dinner, I ended up at a table full of vendors (Rodney Strong Vineyards, Michelob Ultra, and so forth) off to the side (there were no available seats at the huge Fat Cyclists' tables). The food they served was fabulous, and about halfway through dinner one of the vendors I was sitting with said "Look, right next to you, there's Lance eating his dinner". Instead of interrupting his dinner, I just took a picture of him
Sitting next to him was Don Perata, former California State Senator from Oakland who gave a great speech about support the upcoming initiative to further tax cigarette sales to raise 700 Million dollars for cancer research.
In fact, it was the speeches, both by Lance and his executive team, that really made the evening special. In addition to the advocacy Livestrong does for raising money to fight cancer, I had no idea of the programs they run to provide "Navigation" and services to those afflicted with this horrible disease. Several members of the Livestrong 4000 Team (a group of 33 U of Texas students that are riding from Austin to Alaska, 4000 miles, to raise money and support Livestrong) got up and gave some truly inspiring speeches not so much about their riding but more about how their lives have been affected by cancer fighters and survivors.
After a much later-than-usual bedtime for me because of the length of the awards banquet, I awoke early Sunday morning to get ready for the 105-mile Livestrong ride. I had already picked up the rider packets for myself, Mark and Bruce, and at the end of the Awards banquet I managed to snag 2 large Fat Cyclist jerseys loaned to us by none other than Eldon himself (another example of his incredible generosity). I met Mark and Bruce at the Davis Park-and-Ride near the Amtrak station, and we proceeded to the start area.
Livestrong had almost completely taken over Davis' sprawling Central Park, with all sorts of pavilions, tents and a start/finish line that extended the entire block. Being members of the honored Team Fatty, we were able to take a position at the very head of the 1435 registered riders, and promptly at 6:55AM we had our team photos taken right under the start banner.
As we were waiting for the 7:15AM lineup and actual 7:30AM official start, this guy in Livestrong kit rode up and walked up to the microphone and started talking.
Little did I know that when I lined up at the start, I was only a few feet away from a 7-time Tour de France champion...a pretty special moment.
So Lance and his speedy entourage took of first at the starting horn (being paced up front by an electric car Nissan Leaf), and we followed a few minutes later. I was somewhat worried about the mass of riders clamoring for position at first, but it turned out to be a very orderly and sane ride out of Davis through the U.C. Davis campus. After taking one of the bike paths that goes through an Olive orchard (we were told to beware of slippery pavement in this stretch), we were soon out on the flat country roads on our way to Winters. These are roads I've literally ridden hundreds of times in all my Davis Double Centuries, Brevets and so forth, but this was the first time Bruce had seen any of the Davis territory. It was a real contrast of perceptions, and I'm sure Bruce was enjoying that unique feeling of seeing new roads and sights for the first time.
We skipped the first "Power Station" (they didn't call them Rest Stops :-)) and went on to the first Power Station in Winters. The stop was well stocked with vendor's treats (energy bars, gels, etc.) in addition to the requisite Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches and so forth. We stocked up on water because it was starting to get warmish (in the 60s at the start, but now getting into the 80 degrees very quickly in the morning).
The Winters stop concludes the flat beginning section, and from there the rolling hills up to Monticello Dam begin. Following that is the big climb of the day, Cardiac Hill, and then the deceptive uphill called "Tandem Hill" with an eventual downhill to Moscowite Corners, where there's another "Power Station" and the turnaround for the 105-mile spur. Same vendor treats, same food, but many more people and not enough water dispensers, so big lines were in evidence just to fill the water bottles, which was essential because it was really starting to warm up.
The course continued back over the same hill we had just conquered (Cardiac), and for this North side, it's a longer, hotter climb. Eventually we got down to Lake Solano Park and the beautiful stretch of Pleasants Valley Road down to the Cantelow region of Vacaville. They had a water stop along the way (huge vat of really cold water in the shade), and then eventually another Power Station on the edge of Vacaville. I personally felt very strong here and proceeded ahead of Mark and Bruce, and so I waited for them (as planned) at the Power Station (and as Mark quipped, I had time to finish up my latest novel :-)). After we were all food and watered up, we left that stop to climb the hills through Vacaville and back to the flats. This is one of the most interesting parts of the ride scenery-wise, as there are lots of ranches and interesting domiciles to observe along the way. Unfortunately Bruce was having some cramping issues here (probably from the warm temps), and so he got through all the hills but not without a bit of suffering.
Eventually the ride drops out of the hills and goes underneath Interstate 505 (on Allendale Road), and boom...you're on the flats again. The guy with "feel good" engine of the day decided to take the lead and do most (but certainly not all) of the pulling. We came upon several groups of riders, but decided the accordion nature of the groups was too much effort, so we pressed on together (just the 3 of us). Eventually we got back to Winters and another Power Station, where we once again filled up nearly empty water bottles. So after a well-deserved rest in the shade (while rubbing ice on our foreheads), we headed out on the final flat miles back to Davis in the company of several Fatty riders. At some point we lost Bruce off the back of the pace line (owing to the return of some cramping), so Mark and I pretty much rode the rest of the ride at great haste (in fact, too much haste at some point and we fell off the torrid pace line). Returning to Davis and the shade of the trees and out of the afternoon sun was a welcome relief. After zigzagging once again through the U.C. Davis campus, we got to Central Park and the same finish line where we'd started that morning. Wow - they announced your name as you crossed the finish line, and then handed you a towel before you went through a small device spraying misty water on you - ah, that sure felt good at the finish! Jim's Mom and sister Susan were there at the finish to greet him and we proceeded to wait for Bruce to finish, who somehow slipped by us when we were not paying attention. Eventually the three of us met at the Michelob Ultra Beer booth (the good news is the beer was cold; the bad news is that it was Michelob Ultra - yuck!), and then we went off and had some of the post-race meal.
The final activity of the day was to head over to the Fat Cyclist tent and have some pie! Mark and Bruce finally got to meet and talk briefly with Fatty himself (Eldon Nelson), and then we headed back to the parked cars at the Park-N-Ride. What a great day of riding. We all agreed that Livestrong put on a really classy ride; certainly one I'll never forgot. One didn't even need a map to follow; the course was extremely well marked and the pavilion area was well laid out for the post-race festivities.
Most of all, besides having a great Century (aka Year Rounder) bike ride, the Three Amigos had the satisfaction that we had done something good for humanity by raising cancer awareness and contributing to those venerable causes. So the "feel good" at the end of the ride was not just the endorphins we earned while blistering through the course, but from the overall satisfaction of a job well done both for ourselves, our team and fellow riders, and the community of people making a difference to wipe out this pernicious disease from our daily lives.