Uh! Ah! Chavez no se va!

Hugo Chavez, the leftist president of Venezuela, won the referendum here on Sunday with 58% of the vote. We spent the day hanging out in Caracas watching the long, long lines (most people spent 5 to 8 hours waiting to vote) in an awesome neighborhood called Sabana Grande. People had to vote either Si or No for the referendum pushed by the right wing opposition groups. A vote for ´No´ is a vote for Chavez and the continuation of his presidency. After the polls closed at midnight we left the ‘No’ camp we had been hanging out with, who had just sung Happy Birthday to Colleen, and took a cab to the presidential palace.

The situation there was AMAZING. Thousands and thousands of people in the streets, hanging off of trucks and from balconies, chanting and screaming and dancing. We milled around for about 3 hours till our group split up with 3 going back to our hotel and Colleen and I staying behind. We watched some of the bands perform and followed the news on the big screen TV while munching on popcorn. Keep in mind that at this point it is about 4am and the streets have not emptied. Old people and children alike passed the time singing, dancing, and eating. When the report came out that Chavez won the place erupted. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. People hugged us and I could see tears in people’s eyes. It was strange to be at a political event where the side we are pulling for actually wins. And even odder that it is the state we are cheering for! Chavez has been a thorn to the US since he was first elected in 1998 by de-privatizing the oil industry and pouring money into social programs for the country’s poorest people. When the rightwing attempted a coup a couple of years ago the US recognized it immediately, though they continue to not fully recognize Chavez who has been democratically elected 3 times.

After the announcement of the win the soldiers opened the gate to the presidential palace and the crowd swormed in. I look up and we ended up directly under the president’s balcony. After about 5 minutes of anticipation Chavez opened the doors and appeared on the balcony. Everyone went absolutely nuts. The chant of the pro-Chavez groups, ‘Uh! Ah! Chavez no se va!’ (which translates as Chavez wont go) was deafeningly loud. We stood and listened to his speech with the supporters even as rain started coming down around 5am. He mentioned the significance of the election of other left leaning presidents in Latin America and then said, ‘Fuera Bush de la casa blanca’ (Out Bush from the white house). Everyone around us looked at us and when we repeated it everyone cheered. Eventually we pushed through the crowd and avoided the kids on motorcycles and hailed a cab back to the hotel. This night was one of the most exciting moments of my life! Venezuela will forever be in my mind and I feel that much closer to what happens here. I am sure I will be back soon.

Caracas, Venezuela sin bici

We arrived in Caracas safely on Monday afternoon and found a cheap hotel in the University area. We ate at a rad veggie restaurant and then chilled in the center area and drank and ate this fruit ice cream stuff. Apparently the area we stayed in there is not the safest. 3 of th 5 peeps I am with went out that night and met up with some random kids. One of them got a gunned pulled on them and then they said they absolutely had to take a cab back to the hotel cause it was unsafe to walk after dark.

On Tuesday we took a RAD bus ride over the mountains to an amazing beach town. Today we chilled out on the beach most the day eating fried plantains and drinking coconut water. It is picture perfect, clear water, palm trees, and mountains in the background. Tomorrow we are taking a boat to some exclusive beach and Friday doing a trip in the mountains.

Sunday we are returning for the elections because we met some cool peeps from the Chavez camp who are going to take us around. It may be crazy there, I will try to update before then. Super rushed right now!

Mt Tam double century

200 miles in one day. It’s a goal I set for myself way back when I first started doing long rides in Fall of 2000. It was at my first organized ride ever, the Santa Monica mountains century earlier this summer, where I learned about the existence of organized 200 miles rides called double centuries. It’s called the California Triple Crown, a series of double centuries all over the state. I checked the website the night after that ride and was hooked.

Saturday morning I woke up at 245am, drank some coffee, ate what food I could, and hopped in my rental car. The extra $5/day for the CD player was so worth it. Public Enemy and Gangstarr kept my energy level up on the one-hour drive to the start of the ride in Merin County. I downed a quart of silk latte. The start of the ride was at an elementary school and the place was buzzing. At least 125 people on bikes plus organizers and supporters. I stand in line surrounded by geared up roadies; slightly intimidated by all of the people for whom this is normal. I get my number and am on my way back to the car to unload my bike. Is this it?

I had just finished putting on sunblock (still dark out) and sorting out my lights when the start begins. I hop on my bike and take off with the main group. After a couple of miles we are split up by a small climb. A fast group takes off in the front and I am still with the main group. At one point we are flying downhill on a road with full tree cover. At about 30 miles an hour all I can see is the spot of light in front of me from my light and dozens of blinking red lights. Amazing! If I am doing anything at 530am I would want it to be this.

At the first pit stop, at mile 22 or so, I look at my computer and my average speed is 18 MPH. This is damn fast for me, my ‘fast’ training rides were at about this speed, but for only 25-30 miles. I have 178 left. I decide to not pace with the main group. Here we also drop our lights and warm clothes in marked paper bags. The organizers kindly shuttle this stuff ahead to the second to last stop, where we will be needing them again for nightfall.

The first big climb of the day was up the infamous Mt. Tamalpais. 2500 feet to the top where we check-in, turn around and descend. Astounding views of San Francisco, the ocean, and the mountain ranges from our position above the fog line. During the descent, and some time after, we hit fog and cold weather. Damn the crazy bay area weather! Eventually I will be sweating in 90 plus heat, but at this time, around mile 50, I am almost shivering. Like I have said before, when you spend hours and hours on a bike, outside, you truly experience every change in the environment.

Around mile 80 I ended up chatting with two women in their forties. Turns out they have both ridden many tough centuries and other hard rides. We formed a pace line and chatted away. They were so impressed that this was my first double and only my second organized ride! Eventually we caught another group and about 8 of us paced together. Riding at about 21-22 MPH on flat we picked up some miles quickly. I held my own at the front for many of them, but our group split up at the next big climb.

These organized rides are ‘supported’, meaning that food, drinks, minor mechanics, and first aid is available at a number of pit stops along the way. My problem is that I hang out there too long eating and drinking! Vegan food is abound usually in the form of pb/jelly sandwiches, clif bars, fruit, bagels, fig newtons, Gatorade, granola bars and hammer gel (yum!). The lunch pit stop was stocked with veggie burritos and one of the last ones had figs, one of my new favorite fruits.

I spent a lot of midday on my own. This included a ridiculously steep climb at mile 130. It was one of those climbs, in the open sun, where you have trouble turning your pedals over in the easiest gear. I was standing for a lot of it. My legs are aching, as is my lower back, and I am regretting my early morning pace. ‘Why the hell am I doing this?’ I hate riding uphill. I much prefer riding downhill and/or with tailwinds! If there was ever a lazy person who did a double century it is me. At the next stop I realize we are on the same course as the metric double century (125 miles) riders and I try not to turn my nose up to those doing fewer miles.

Around mile 150 I am feeling sluggish in even keeping a fast pace on flat. I am seeing fewer and fewer riders and my motivation is low. My mind is searching for something new to think about! I force myself not to stare at my computer and calculate my pace, miles to go, etc. Around 175 I meet up with a guy I had talked to briefly earlier and we start riding together. Not pacing, simply riding side by side. It turns out that it is his first double, but he just ran the SF marathon the previous weekend! We end up riding together the rest of the day (and into the night!).

At the mile 186 stop we meet the guy responsible for the course. He is ecstatic that this is our first double and tells us that we will be hooked. Yeah too late my friend. It’s great when someone involved in an inherently exclusive hobby is not exclusive to who does it and actively encourages others to participate. After that we had one last climb before a descent and some flat to the 200 mile mark. But, as always, I was having gear problems. My light was going in and out and my friend’s battery died. We had my back-up commuter light, but in the pitch blackness it was little help on the descent. Luckily someone with two LED lights caught us and led the way to the end point. 200 miles in 16 hours and 42 minutes. I was shooting for 15, but what are you going to do? I finished within the cut-off time of 17, so I was happy.

Signed up for a double century, wtf?

About 6 weeks ago I committed to doing a double century (200 miles in one day, under 17 hours) on August 7th in Marin County (across the golden gate bridge from SF). I trained as much as someone like me could train. I had a hill day, an interval day, and a long day each week. My new riding buddy, Matt Pro, and I did Los Angeles to San Diego in one day- about 165 miles- two weeks ago. I feel good, but I don’t have a lot to compare it to.

Anyway, I flew up to Northern California on Tuesday for a conference for work on Wed/Thur. Which, in itself, was a fun time. Oh wait! My 10-year streak of not paying for taking my bike on a plane was broken! I was lazy and didn’t measure my boxes and got called out. She actually measured my boxes! One 7 inches over and the other 4 (length plus height plus width). I was able to talk my way into just paying for one oversized box; $45. Much better than the $80 for bike or $90 for two over-sized boxes. I really cannot complain since I didn’t have to pay for my flight.

All week I have been back and forth between Sacramento and Davis. Davis is amazing! I have eaten at least a dozen and a half figs STRAIGHT OFF THE TREE. My friends Tim Radak and Temra Costra are urban scavengers (and wonderful hosts!). Amazing. And last night I went to a bar because Tim’s housemate’s boyfriend was performing with someone else named Ben as ‘The Benjamins’. In dramatic fashion I am waiting in line for some food and this kid with a beard and dreads asks me if my name is Matt. I say yes and he responds. ‘Yo its Ben Lewis! From high school!’. Yeah. A friend from high school I haven’t talked to in 7 years. He lives in Davis and was the other Ben in ‘The Benjamins’. And, randomly enough, his older sister was in town visiting from Monterrey. She made reference to me at her prom. Crazy!

Now it is 1015pm. I have to be up in 4.5 hours to drive to the start of the ride one hour away. Check-in is at 430am. I am super nervous. Can I climb 15,000 feet in one day? Will I be able to finish in 17 hours? Will my bike hold up? My knees? I am unsure what to expect. I just made a mixed CD for the rental car ride and am staring at my bike all ready to go. We’ll see what happens. I will post as soon as I get back to Davis. The car ride back here might be rough, but that’s what coffee is for. Good night.