We’re getting closer and closer to the Ride, and I’m getting more and more confident about my ability to complete it. I wasn’t sure if I’d have the mental stamina to keep riding, but after Day on the Ride, I’m pretty sure I will. That’s good–I lost a lot of my mental strength during my last fight with bipolar disorder (or rather, it got used up struggling to survive), and it’s good to feel like I’m recovering.
“Day on the Ride” was Saturday, a 77 mile ride designed to mimic an actual day on the Ride, complete with pit stops, costumes, sweep vehicles, and a clearly marked route. It was a brutal day, with probably about 5000 feet of climbing (about double that of any day on the actual Ride), but at least the weather was nice–started out foggy, then cleared up into a warm sunny day.
I had a lot of trouble with Day on the Ride. I had been struggling with lower back pain (stiffness) for a few weeks, and it started out bad and got worse through the ride, starting at about mile 30. Towards the end I was having to stop every few miles to stretch out my back, and rest several times up each hill, to stop the pain. Finally, at mile 68, I said “Fuck this,” popped two ibuprofen, and kept riding. The ibuprofen killed the pain long enough for me to finish out the day, and I got a nice backrub from Mike afterwards.
I started out the day with very little energy, having to stop several times up the first few hills, then got more energy through the day. Unfortunately, the gain in leg strength was offset by the back pain, so I kept having to stop regardless. On the whole, it was a difficult ride.
So why am I encouraged by this? Because one of the big questions in my mind was whether I’d have the willpower to push through physical pain. There are lots of people who can finish the ride without physical suffering, but I am not one of them. Both times I’ve ridden, I’ve had substantial pain of some sort or another, usually several different kinds, by the time Day 7 rolls around. If I don’t have the mental wherewithal to stand pain, I won’t finish the Ride.
So it was really reassuring to me to know that I could deal with lower back pain, stop or slow down as I needed to in order to take care of myself, but keep on riding regardless.
I did call my coach after DOTR to talk to him about the lower back pain–he said it was a fitting issue, and to raise the handlebars by 1/8″. I did that, and presto, no more lower back pain on Sunday. It’s amazing the difference a minor change in bike fit will make.
Sunday I went out for a 2.5 hour ride, and felt stronger than I had on Saturday–which is also reassuring. I think I will be able to deal with multiple days of riding.
So on the whole, at T minus 5 weeks, I’m feeling pretty good. I have one rest week (this week), then two more weeks of serious training, then two rest weeks before the Ride. But I think that if I had to, I could do the entire Ride today and still have a good chance of finishing.
So that’s all good.
I should maybe say that I’m not being stupid about pain: there’s pain that comes from pushing yourself, and there’s pain that comes from being injured. I stop instantly if I feel I’m injured, because continuing on with an injury is very dangerous. But the physical discomforts that come from riding eleven hours a day, seven days in a row, are something else entirely–mostly muscle soreness, saddle soreness, lactic acid building up in the muscles. All stuff that can be pushed through in pursuit of the final goal: riding 585 miles, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, to raise money to fight HIV and AIDS. It’s a worthy goal, and worth a little pain.
Between this ride and my past two rides, I’ll have raised over $14,000 for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. I’m proud of that, probably more so than having bicycled from San Francisco to Los Angeles twice. Anyone can ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles–if they train–but to raise money for AIDS services, that is something. I believe AIDS is the great issue of our time, and we’ve only forgotten it because, here in the U.S., we’ve mostly dealt with it. (Mostly: infection rates are increasing, and the fastest-increasing infection rate is among teen girls–a sobering thought. AIDS is not and never has been “a gay disease”, but it is definitely spreading into the heterosexual population.)
But in the rest of the world, AIDS is death incarnate–wiping out an entire generation in sub-Saharan Africa, and poised to do the same in Asia and India. We’ve gotten complacent because AIDS is a slow disease–it spreads slowly, and by the time the infection rate has reached the point of alarm, it’s too late–it’s reached a tipping point where it is very hard to control. I met a lot of great people in my travels, and spent some time talking to AIDS authorities in Southeast Asia. I think a bunch of the people I met are going to die of AIDS, and I think it’s a mortal sin that we in the U.S. are mostly standing by and letting it happen, because we’ve forgotten about AIDS. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation hasn’t forgotten–they do international work through their Pangaea program, and advocacy at the local, state, and national level–and raising awareness is one of the big reasons I ride. Because AIDS is not yet over, not in this country or in the world, and a LOT of people are going to die before it’s over.
So I want to know that, when it comes my time to answer for what I’ve done, I’ll be able to say with a clear conscience, “I did my part in the fight against HIV and AIDS.”
Fourteen thousand dollars. Now that is an accomplishment.