What a day. This was the seventh time Tania has done the AIDS Ride around Cayuga Lake, and the eighth time for me. It was by far the hardest of all of them. We had cold rain from the start until midday. and then a headwind/crosswind in the afternoon. We didn’t break any speed records, and it took a long time to get warm at the lunch stop, but three things saved us: conditioning at the gym, good preparation the night before, and the hand dryers in the locker rooms of the Seneca Falls Community Center.
We did a fair amount of training rides this year. We also knew we were in for a cold soak, so we broke out the waterproof jackets, extra layers, winter cycling gloves, and most important, clip-on fenders. Here’s what Tania’s outfit looked like before she got doused (click on the photo to make it bigger):
I have a rule of thumb about riding in the rain. If all you see are isolated wet spots on a dry road, it isn’t raining. If the road is wet but there aren’t any puddles on it, you’re still going to stay dry, thanks to wind evaporation. It’s only when you start riding through puddles that the wet conditions have begun.
Yesterday, the first drops of rain fell at the starting line at 7am. About 300 riders left Stewart Park. We rode up Route 34B to Rogues Harbor, turned left, and did the big down and uphill at Salmon Creek. By the top of that hill, around 8am, the rain had turned steady and the puddles were puddling.
Riding in the rain isn’t all that bad, as long as you’re careful, but it was also cold — about 43 degrees at the start, and 50 degrees at the first rest stop — and a lot of people who didn’t have the right gear were getting hypothermia. There was a time when Tania wouldn’t have made it, either, but in the last several years she has gotten much stronger and more confident, and we just kept plugging along. It was fairly ridiculous, though. I mean, there are so many beautiful days on Cayuga Lake in the summer. Why were we riding around it on this day?
Answer: because we’re doing it, so shut up and keep pedaling.
At the north end of the lake, about 40 miles in, there’s an intersection where you either turn to start going back (an 85-mile ride) or go straight to lengthen the ride to 100 miles. We turned, because we aren’t completely nuts. But lots of people kept going.
At noon, the Seneca Falls Community Center looked like the triage point after a natural disaster. Tania disappeared into the girls’ locker room (see “hand dryers,” above) and I chose the other method of treating hypothermia — eating lots of chocolate-chip cookies — while talking to the old-timers who were wandering around. The intrepid Alex Wood, owner of Ithaca Cayuga Optical and an original organizer of the ride, had done the first half and finished. This was the worst weather in the 16 years we’ve held the ride, he said. Jerry Dietz, one of the chief organizers of the ride, agreed — but like us, he was going on.
Heading south around 1pm, the weather had changed for the better, and as we turned south onto Route 89 and started down, things continued to improve. By the time we got to Valois, it was clear that the rain was over and the clouds were breaking up. Tania wasn’t going as fast — her average speed dropped from about 12 miles an hour before lunch to maybe 9 or 10 MPH afterward — but I kept remembering the first year she did this, when we finished dead last with a man on a motorcycle behind us, interrupting Tania every few minutes to ask her if she please would quit so he could go home, and her repeated refusals. This time was way better. She was far from last, and she finished while many of her fellow riders dropped out.
We got back to Ithaca in time for a quick shower before we headed over to Stewart Park for dinner — a feast, as always, expertly catered and donated by Gregor Brous. Sitting there with hundreds of exhausted, happy people, I realized that the real reason we do this is just to be a part of it. It is an annual demonstration of one of the best things about Ithaca.
We’re pretty comfortable in this town — like most Ithacans, we have good jobs and nice places to live — and we easily could shut out all knowledge, as many Americans do, that life isn’t nearly as nice for people living just a stone’s throw away. Be we didn’t do that, and you didn’t either. Together we raised $242,000 (this year’s total, and still heading up) to help neighbors who are dealing with the life-changing diagnosis of HIV Infection and don’t have enough resources to ensure their own well-being. That’s the point of this exercise, and we’re grateful that you helped.
Until next year, many thanks. –Brad & Tania