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My Turn: A hard ride beyond despair on the AIDS/LifeCycle trek

May 30, 2011|By Ruth Goodnow, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Ruth Goodnow found herself questioning her ambition when she started out on the AIDS/LifeCycle bike ride.
Ruth Goodnow found herself questioning her ambition when she started out… (Wancy Young Cho )

"I can't do it," I wailed into my cellphone in Santa Cruz to my husband in San Luis Obispo. "And I've lost my wallet. Will you come and get me?"

I must have sounded pathetic. I had just pedaled 82 miles on Day 1 of the AIDS/LifeCycle fundraising ride, and I felt ready to give up. Obviously I'd taken on more than I could manage in my latest attempt to challenge myself physically and mentally. And I had six more days to go on the ride from San Francisco to L.A. How would I make it?

All day, hundreds of bikers 30 and younger had passed me. "On your left, rider!" they called out one by one as they flew by. I wondered how they could be going so fast. Was I going that slowly?

I've been a recreational biker my whole life, but when it comes to speed and endurance, the most I've done is the SLO Triathlon in San Luis Obispo, where I live. I began participating at age 50 as a celebration of that milestone. The biking portion of the event is just over 15 miles, a distance I find easily manageable along with the half-mile swim and short run.

But I grew tired of it and sought a bigger challenge. The AIDS/LifeCycle ride caught my eye several years ago when the cyclists passed through San Luis Obispo on their way down the coast: It's a 545-mile, seven-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I fantasized that someday I might give it a try. It seemed like a wild idea, but it took hold.

Last year I finally did it. I registered 10 months before the ride and began to raise the funds and train. I rode 10 to 20 miles every day, and up to 50 miles on the weekends. I arrived at the event woefully under-trained: For one thing, I'd never ridden 100 miles in a day — a century — and the LifeCycle ride called for two centuries.

So there I was in Santa Cruz after just Day 1, exhausted and ready to give up, with Day 2's century looming in my mind. I still had to unload my duffle bag from the gear truck, set up my pup tent, shower, eat, sleep and then get up at dawn the next day to ride again. I didn't see how I could do it. So I called my husband and sobbed.

I got support from him but no sympathy. Between that and my tent mate's insistence that I stay to the ride's end — and the knowledge that I could catch a lift from a sag wagon if I needed it (which I sorely did a few times) — I decided to stick it out. Besides, I'm not a quitter.

Adrenaline and willpower saw me through the second day all the way to the seventh. Yes, I learned just how badly chapped lips can hurt and how essential "butt butter" is for protection against saddle sores. But I also learned how the power of the group can see you through and that I can pedal for 100 miles in a day — then get up and ride some more.

Another rider found my wallet and turned it in. And the triumph of crossing the finish line on Day 7 was all the more sweet for having moved beyond the hysteria of the phone call I'd made six days earlier.

Goodnow, 58, is a freelance writer and editor who lives in San Luis Obispo and is the author, under the pen name Kate Updike O'Connor, of "My Name Is Rosie: Snippets of a Corgi's Everyday Life in Her Own Words." She can be reached at

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount experiences related to health or fitness. Submissions should be 500 words or fewer, are subject to editing and condensation and become property of The Times. Email Read more at

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