Okay...a little confession here...I slept in a hotel last night. When I woke up at 5:00 yesterday in a soaking wet sleeping bag, knowing that the bag would be stuffed into my duffel bag until the end of a long day's riding (in the rain??), I figured there was no way to have a dry sleeping bag for the final night in Ventura. So...call home, Janice booked a room, and that was that. Missed a stirring candlelight vigil on the beach next to the camp, a time for people to give some thought to loved ones lost. Truly sorry to have missed that; it was clearly a very special time of remembrance, mourning, and moving forward.
But onward and upward...Saturday morning was upon us, and one last ride ahead. It was another in a series of spectacular rides through much of the best that California has to offer; nice cool morning, and a beautiful ride on some great roads as we headed out of Ventura, through Oxnard, and on down Hwy 1 toward the coast. It wasn't long until we were on that gorgeous stretch of highway that runs down toward Malibu...ocean on one side, cliffs on the other, and a line of cyclists on their way to Los Angeles. But first, let's pay a quick visit to rest stop one, and my new friend Alan. Alan is a roadie, and I honestly don't know what his actual assignment is, but here he is next to the van, doors open, some good dance music blaring, and Alan dancing non-stop. Totally immersed in the moment, reveling in the excitement of the last leg of an incredible journey, just dancing and dancing and dancing. The impact on the cyclists was great; huge smiles, an occasional dance partner, and yet another example of every roadie chipping in something to make the day a little better for all of us cyclists.
Out of rest stop one, on down more scenic Coast Highway, and into rest stop two where my bike guy Adam (is it okay if I toss in a quick plug for K-Man Cyclery, my local bike guys who sold me my bike and keep it purring?) was quick to clean up a gunky chain that suffered all sorts of indignities in yesterday's rain, lube it up, and get me back on the road with a happy sizzling bike once again. Thanks Adam...sorry I forgot to snap a photo.
From there it was just a nice jaunt down to Malibu Bluffs for yet another great lunch, this time overlooking the Pacific. People were sprawled all over the lawn, enjoying the warm sun and the great view, in much less of a hury than usual to get on the road. I'm not sure if the reluctance to leave was more because of the nice rest stop, or the realization that we were about to embark on the very last leg of the ride. I pulled my Redline R760 out of the rack, and thought, "Okay, let's wrap this thing up". Not "let's get this over with"...this was an experience I was in no hurry to end. But it was time to ride.
On down the highway, up into West Los Angeles, and as I rode the last few miles toward the finish I was awash in a mix of emotions. A lot of satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, a warm glow from the knoweldge that 2,700 of us had done something truly special, and yet a genuine sadness that it was all about to end. Final blocks...final turn...throngs of cheering specators, not cheering as we do for our favorite athletes for beating someone, but cheering all of us for accomplishing something truly meaningful. Into the Veterans' Center to a smiling, waving, cheering reception from countless strangers and my personal rooters...my daughter Rebecca, her special guy Mark, my best buddy since I was in 8th grade Pat Stacy (not in the picture...sorry Pat, my bad), and my adoring wife Janice. Wow. Home...done...mission accomplished. San Francisco to Los Angeles in seven days. My odometer read 524 miles, shortened a bit because of the rain, but all done. Very difficult to find the words for all this.
The closing ceremony was rich and meaningful, a mix of celebration, congratulations, thank yous, and a desperate plea that public funding in California for HIV/AIDS treatment and support would not be slashed. The stark reality that all the funds that were raised by this ride pale in comparison with the draconian cuts proposed by our governor. Tough reality.
But in the end, the day was about accomplishment. Physical challenges met, aching muscles and joints ignored, fatigue overcome, anxieties and doubts cast aside, and after a challenging and sometimes trying week we had accomplished what we had set out to accomplish; the audacious assault on the roads and highways of California to ride 2,200 bikes from San Francisco to Los Angeles to make a difference in the world we live in. A hearty pat on the back is in order here.
Next year? That's a ways off...we shall see.
(Note: there will be a "Day 8" post to wrap up the final loose ends on this series of ramblings. It should be posted tomorrow.)