Bears on bikes: Day 1 – Riding ‘alone,’ with new friends, to cheers and drumbeats

Reporting on Day 1 of the 2010 AIDS LifeCycle — Sunday’s leg from San Francisco to Santa Cruz — are Celeste Roschuni, a Berkeley mechanical engineering Ph.D. student, followed by Josh Schoenfeld, a Berkeley campus employee. Roschuni does research with Professor Alice Agogino in the Berkeley Institute of Design. She started doing the AIDS Ride in 2006 as a personal challenge; she recently completed her first triathlon and is planning to do the 2010 Nike Women’s Marathon in the Fall. Josh Schoenfeld works on campus in the department of molecular and cell biology.

SANTA CRUZ — Celeste Roschuni : I’m sitting in the super-secret bloggers tent in AIDS LifeCycle services, writing to tell you all about my first day on the ride. Last night, I didn’t get to sleep until about midnight (I had a lot of last-minute things to do). I set my alarm for 3:45 a.m. (Liz was set to get me at 4:30 and I wanted a shower, etc.) — but forgot to turn on the alarm. Liz’s text at 4:25, from her car outside — “I’m here” — woke me. So I skipped the shower, loaded up, and set out for the San Francisco Cow Palace.

When we got there, though, I didn’t really want to get out of the car. The last two times I did the ride, I was with a friend. I wasn’t looking forward, this time, to navigating the event “on my own.” But how could I back out, after all the support I’ve gotten from friends, family, and a few perfect strangers? So I gave Liz a big hug, foisted my bag on my shoulder, and headed over to the gear trucks. Oddly, at 5:15 a.m. it was warm enough that I had to take off my arm warmers. I stashed them in my vest pocket and snapped a few pictures.

Next I was off to the main arena, where I ran into fellow Cal Team member Evynn, and later into James and Nicole. We also spotted some Cal-affiliated folks who didn’t quite make it to signing up for the team. They totally missed out on our spiffy jerseys!

AIDS LIfeCycle rider

An AIDS LIfeCycle rider marks a milestone on Day 1.

We did a nice little warm up and stretch — though who could understand what that guy was saying?!? Luckily, I have a strong monkey-see, monkey-do instinct. And then the opening ceremonies began. As always, they were fun, funny, inspiring, heart wrenching, and hopeful.

Finally, the real ride was to begin. As anticipated, I was now happy to have my arm warmers, as the unexpectedly warm night had given way to a fog-chilled morning. Riding through this soup was like riding in suspended rain. I have a relatively new bike (and a general lack of training), so it’s never been out on a rainy day; this was the wettest it’s ever gotten!

Eventually the fog started to lift, and it turned out to be a gloriously beautiful day. The weird thing with the weather was that as we went down the peninsula, we’d go in and out of clouds (a.k.a. fog): one second it was pea soup, the next you were confronted with an enormous blue sky with the most glorious cloud formations. California really is gorgeous, as I learned the first time I did this ride. I’m really looking forward to being engulfed by all that again.

But it’s not all about the weather and the scenery, is it? It’s about the people, and the experience, and the pain of going 80 miles a day.

I’ve met a lot of people already this year. Riding alone, I think I’m meeting a lot more folks than I did the last two times, when I was with someone I knew. I was a bit trepidatious about going 545 miles “by myself” and sleeping in a tent with someone I don’t know. But I’ve found I’m not alone. I’m always riding with a friend, even if we haven’t met yet. I’ve had lovely conversations with lots of riders (Tristana, Scott, and Chris from Canada, to name a few). And my tent mate, Abby, another Cal Team member, seems like she’ll be great to tent with.

I’d like to give a great big shout out to the awesome folks cheering us along. There’s nothing like cresting a hill to the sound of cheers and drumbeats, or having someone pass you a donut hole as you bike along. I’ve worked hard to get myself here, and this makes this worth it. Without all those awesome folks, a 545 mile ride by myself just wouldn’t happen, especially with the little training I’ve done.

Which leads nicely into the whole “pain” thing  — but let’s leave that for another post. Right now, I’ve got to get to bed. I’m planning to get up in five hours and beat that 107 miles to death, one pedal stroke at a time.

•  •  •

Josh Schoenfeld: I’m laying in a daisy-filled field after finishing the first day of my first AIDS LifeCycle ride; 80 miles down, 465 to go.

The day started early with the opening ceremony in San Francisco at the Cow Palace, the most hideous building I’ve ever seen. The emotionally moving ceremony included a riderless bike, representing all those who have lost their lives to AIDS.

The crowd cheered us on as the police escorted us through a very foggy and moist morning. If only I  had windshield wipers for my glasses!

AIDS LifeCycle riders

AIDS LifeCycle riders end Day 1 of the ride in a tent city in Santa Cruz. (Devin Wicks photo)

The ride got increasingly beautiful as we rode south, making our way to the half-way point at San Gregorio. Lunch there was made extra special with the arrival of my friends, sponsors, and intense Cal cheerleaders, Evan and Johan, who came down to support me and the other Cal riders.

The 500 selfless, amazing roadies did a fabulous job of providing for everyone’s needs, especially the guys at rest stop #4. Tomorrow we ride 107 miles at 90-plus degrees. I’m looking forward to the much-talked-about skinny-dipping break. I’m sure I’ll sleep well tonight.

A huge thank you to all the supporters who made this ride possible for me and the Cal riders.