July is for Bicycling

Perhaps this is not an issue for everybody but, I tend to get incredibly distracted during the month of July. And this year has been worse than most. For many years now, I have had a ‘thing’ for bicycling. The ‘thing’ means that I crave getting outside and cycling through the hills and dales of the bay area. It’s my preferred method of exercise and it also aids in keeping my psychological outlook rosy. July is a busy mother for cycling fans for several reasons, the first being that the grandest bicycle race of them all, Le Tour de France happens in July. The second is the lesser known, non-professional, crazy, week-long ride across Iowa, RAGBRAI, happens the third week of July. And for masochist cyclists in California, the Death Ride is held in the Sierras.
Le Tour, as they call it in Europe, is a three week long bike race that takes place mainly in France (hence the name). It is a legendary race that includes the very best teams and riders in professional cycling. Think of an event similar in magnitude to the Superbowl, for 23 days in a row, that is Le Tour. These riders race every day in all types of terrain and in all types of weather and the winner comes in with the least amount of time to complete all 23 stages. It is like a soap opera on wheels – with larger than life personalities, drug abuse, bloody crashes, and drama with a capital ‘D’. Alongside that are the die-hard physical feats of riding over 100 miles every day, sometimes climbing multiple mountain passes in the Alps and the Pyrenees. This is all on TV by the way – and I somehow am compelled to record and watch every stage no matter what else is going on in my life. Many nights I fall asleep on the couch trying to get through a stage. This problem is compounded by work projects and my own bike riding, which this year posed a significant challenge.
That’s because this year I was training for one of the other July events, the California Death Ride. I’m not sure why I thought it would be a good idea to participate in this ride – but I got signed up and eventually realized I had to do some extensive training to get in shape. The ride is 129 miles long and climbs 5 mountain passes: Monitor, Ebbetts and Carson pass in the Sierra Nevadas (you climb both sides of Monitor and Ebbetts). This ride ends up being about 55 miles of climbing at altitudes between 6000 and 9000 feet. It is representative of a stage in Le Tour, which should have been a siren of warning that it might be an extremely difficult ride. I needed to find the time to be on my bicycle every day to climb, climb, and then climb some more. This was extremely problematic with holding down a 24-hour a day high-tech job and all the travel that comes with said job (since January I have logged 60,000 miles flying the friendly skies). It just adds to the frustration of working in high-tech that I can’t find enough time to train for something like this. But I digress. So when Le Tour began, I was traveling and then preparing to head up to the mountains with my Father and riding partner in tow. Needless to say, I’m not sure the altitude adjustment worked very well, and on the day of the ride I felt like I worked harder than I ever had on any of my training climbs. And, no, it did not help to pretend that I was a professional riding a tour stage, but like the tour, the scenery was fabulous. In the end, the mountains beat me – as I decided to throw in the towel after climbing two passes (both sides of Monitor).
The other distracting bicycle event in July is RAGBRAI: Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Yes, Iowa is a state – hard to believe but true, it’s right in the middle of the country (in case you learned your geography at a California public school). Anyway, this ride has a different route every year, but the concept is the same, dip your bike wheels in the Missouri River at the start, and end by dipping your tires in the mighty Mississippi. It’s generally between 400 and 500 miles during 7 days of riding. This is one of the oldest organized bike rides in the country, been going strong for 43 years now. There about 10,000 cyclists that participate from all over the USA and probably some from other countries too. I have done the ride 7 times – I think. Sometimes you don’t want to remember your RAGBRAI week, especially when the temps are in the 90’s every day along with the humidity! This ride is all about fun though – unless you are really competitive. People form teams and decorate their bikes and themselves – some past teams we’ve seen include Team TuTu, Team Bad Monkeys, the Donner Party (their motto is we eat the slow ones), and so on. I had an encounter one year with a man who wore a bandolier of lipsticks, and was approaching the ladies to provide them with lip protection and also to have them kiss his white t-shirt … Needless to say a completely different atmosphere than the Death Ride, where people are anxious to make cut-off times. I did not ride this year, but I did happen to find myself in Iowa at the end of RAGBRAI week and watching the local news teams reporting from the last few overnight towns.
In the end July becomes a lost month for me – too much focus on the bike and too little focus on work. It makes me wish that adults had summer vacation. In closing, I highly recommend that you pump up those tires and get on your bike and ride – it is a guaranteed stress reducer, and we all could use some time off of the clock!

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