Jun 20, 2014

ALC 2014 Ride Re-cap

It's hard to believe that 2 weeks ago I completed my 4th AIDS LifeCycle ride, 545 miles from SF to LA, to raise funds, awareness, and support of HIV/AIDS. With each year of doing this ride my training and writing has dwindled but the energy around it remains. To be honest there wasn't much writing about my training this year because, well, there wasn't much training to write about. I had grand plans to start fundraising early this year and continue to ride the mountain high and dedicate every weekend to training as I did as a novice cyclist. But life had different plans for me. I managed to get in a few short training rides and a couple of long ones, including the Napa Valley Tour de Cure which left me fearful with only a month left until ALC. Mentally I already knew what to expect and I was prepared to spend hours lost in thought on my bicycle coasting down long roads surround by farms but physically I had no idea how and untrained body (more specifically butt) would respond to 7 days in the saddle. The thought of visiting the "butt clinic" had me petrified more than the ride itself. I decided to invest in a trainer to increase my saddle time. Well... yah... that didn't work out so well either. I tried but I'd much rather climb Mt. Hamilton than spend 30 minutes on one of those, no wonder I couldn't ever get into spin. You pedal and pedal and go NOWHERE.

Nonetheless I manged to get in a few more hours in the saddle and then left the rest up to the universe. All in all it was another epic ride no matter how many times I have done it, the experience is always a first. I learn so much being on the bicycle for 7 days. And quite honestly I was looking forward to only having to think about getting from point A to point B everyday, that's simplicity in action. My biggest lesson learned? Whether you are afraid to fall or not it will eventually happen, and when it does... get up (as long as there's no broken bones) and keep on riding.

 Here's a quick and dirty recap of the days.

Day 0: Wow, I can't believe it's here. The safety video makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

Day 1: The opening ceremony prepares resets my mind for what's to come. I shift from work mode to human mode. Before I know it I'm on my bicycle riding out of SF, this year with my partner in crime Jenny (payback for her convincing me to climb Kiliminjaro). This day is always a hard one for me, partly due to the lack of sleep and partly mental. I was glad to make it to Santa Cruz and greeted by my family, they've come out every year to support and it's priceless! It was my first time joining a team and although I didn't know everyone on the team the team jerseys united us.

Day 2: The longest day of the ride, 110 miles. I love this day because I've officially left behind work and life and all of me is truly part of the ride. The humming my wheels on stretches of open roads is like a lullaby that puts me into a road trance. I chase yummy breakfast and cookies from the Cookie Lady and before I know it I'm at the end. With one minor detour... a visit to the med tent. Yup, I crashed! I made a left turn into gravel and before I knew it I was on the ground with Randy and Rod making sure I had no broken bones. Luckily, my bones were in tact; my skin not so much. It could have been worse but the arm warmers and leg warmers were my shield. I got up and immediately asked if my bike was okay. Miss Diva looked bad at first sight but she and I both pulled through and rode on. I visited the Med tent everyday after this, to ensure I could continue riding, the thought of not finishing was non existent.

Day 3: One more quadbuster under the belt and an awesome time hammering with some women power! A delicious bradley burger and inspiration from the community and kids and of course jesus cristo.  Before I knew it I was in Paso enjoying a glass of wine and a lovely steak.

Day 4: My favorite day of the ride. Not only do we hit the Halfway to LA mark but we're surrounded by breathtaking views of the coast riding through Morro Bay, and Pismo Beach. Love love love ocean energy!

Day 5: Red dress day! Short and sweet sprinkled with fashion appeal! We are 2400 riding as one red ribbon.

Day 6: It's bittersweet. I feel like we just started and it's already over. Last year this was my day to hammer and get in the top 100. At the beginning of this week I didn't even think about the top 100, with the training I did I was happy just finishing. But after the crash and hours on the bike I felt surprisingly stronger. I decided to go for it. And I did it. Not only did I get in the top 100 I came in faster than last year. Yes, it's a ride not a race but this is the one day where it becomes a race for me. A day to recognize and celebrate how far I've come as a cyclist. All of that is mere fairy dust compared to what this ride is really about. It's about community, support, and unconditional love.

Day 7: The ride comes to an end but the memories and friendships old and new continue to flourish. I'm blessed to be a small speck of red in the beautiful ribbon.

A big thanks to all my donors and supporters, whether you know it or not you all rode with me with your inspiring words and open hearts.

Life truly is like riding a bicycle.
Until next year....

Ritu Riyat
ALC 2014 Rider #3741

Feb 5, 2014

Hakuna Matata

Hakuna Matata literally means "no worries" in Swahili. It's similar to the English phrase "don't worry, be happy". When I first heard this phrase, minutes after arriving in Tanzania, the Lion King song immediately popped into my brain. 
Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase
Hakuna Matata! Ain't no passing craze
It means no worries for the rest of your days
It's our problem-free philosophy
Hakuna Matata!
Hakuna Matata?
Yeah. It's our motto!
What's a motto?
Nothing. What's a-motto with you?
Those two words will solve all your problems
So would these two words really solve my problems? I woke up on day 4 looking forward to the short day that lie ahead today with only a couple of miles to cover. Little did I know the short day meant climbing up a steep 500ft switchback wall called BrrancoWall. 
We started hiking up and quickly the non-technical leisurely walk turned into what I would call a technical, fear invoking climb where I searched for the appropriate hand and foot holes to pull myself over rocks. “I didn’t sign up for this! I signed up for non technical?!”
For the first time in 4 days I felt my mind and body being challenged in ways I didn’t imagine. I could feel the fear inside me screaming “you're going to slip and die” but there was no time to entertain the fear. 
The thoughts would rise and fall as I moved forward trusting the footwork of Jenny, whowas in front of me, and taking help from the guide to get me through some binds. Whenever I made the mistake of looking up, the 500 ft wall seemed never ending, I wouldn’t dare look down. 
As a struggled internally and externally to keep moving forward my anguish was intermittently alleviated by the friendly and playful chats with the porters who zipped by me literally bouncing from one rock to another singing and chanting “Hakuna Matata” no worries or “Pole Pole slowly,slowly .
To distract my fear I joined in on the conversations throwing out every Swahili word I had picked up. The cheering encouragement was a lifesaver. The end had finally arrived and we are at the top. Once at the top I finally looked down and appreciated the work I’d done and the landscape that surrounded us.  
I captured what the wall represented to me in crow pose on the edge of the wall. Just like with crow pose it takes overcoming fear and looking forward to find balance and fly so to it took with climbing Barranco wall.
The hardest part of Day 4 was behind us, an hour later at noon, we were at Karanga camp with a whole day to rest and relax. We spent the day inside the food tent playing card games, drinking tea, and enjoying the rest. 
Before turning in for the night we gathered our entire crew to pop some champagne and make a toast to say goodbye to 2013 and welcome the New Year!

Jan 18, 2014

Poa kichizi kama ndizi!

Poa kichizi kama ndizi means "cool like a banana" in swahili. I entertained myself on the mountain by practicing the few swahili words I had picked up so far, which at this point consisted of mambo and poa. The first time I heard "poa kichizi kama ndizi" in response to my "mambo" greeting, I was stumped. Poa que who?! Soon enough this common phrase was added to my vocabulary although I still don't fully understand the banana reference I like the way it sounds. 

Starting the day off with style

Today felt like test day. We’d be hiking 5.6 miles and reaching 15,000 feet of elevation at Lava Tower to test how our bodies respond to the elevation as part of the acclimatization process. The trek out the camp was a steep incline, seeming harder now that the air was thinner and my legs had 2 days of hiking on them. We hiked on one step at a time amusing ourselves with stories both real and sci-fi; thin air and high desert climate makes for a creative imagination. 

Lunchtime break

After a few hours of hiking and a few bars later I was hungry for real food, we had lunch boxes packed in our bags and intended to eat them at Lava Tower which although was only a few hundred feet away, seemed too far at this point. We stopped at a nearby rock formation to eat lunch and take a break. I settled down with my lunch of fried chicken, hard boiled egg, juice, bread (of course) and fruit; and before I could dig into any one of the items it started raining. 

We should have been used to the elements having their own agenda and schedule. In a matter of seconds we were caught in a complete downpour! We tossed our half eaten lunches back in our pack and quickly took the shelter of our ponchos and hiked on to Lava Tower.

We made it to Lava Tower! 

15,000 feet felt surprisingly good, it was cold and rainy at Lava Tower but I was still breathing. The air comfortably traveling in and out of my lungs made me feel a bit more confident in summiting this mountain although a lot could happen in the 4300 feet still remaining to the top but in this moment I felt good. We spent only a few minutes at Lava Tower and then made our descent to 13,000 feet where we would camp for the night. 

It was a beautiful descent with colorful rocks and waterfalls, even in the greyness the shiny rocks shimmered and caught my eye. I followed the group walking down at a much faster pace than we had taken coming up. Eventually we made it to Barranco camp, the rains had a cleared up and camp was dry. It was time to perform the evening rituals and call it a night.

No soup for you

Jan 17, 2014

Pole Pole

Pole, Pole means “slowly, slowly” in Swahili. It was the mountain mantra recited by guides and porters reminding us to move slowly so we can acclimate. It also became reminder to slow down and enjoy the moment taking in the breathtaking views we encountered. It wasn't until I was in Zanzibar days later that I'd realize the mantra was more than safety advice it was a lifestyle.

views from Shira camp

Day 2 -
I woke up well before the 6:30am wake up time and laid in my sleeping bag taking a deep breath into my body noticing the aches and pains from the previous days work. My hips and shoulders felt tender from my pack and from tossing and turning on the ground all night. The best way to sleep in a sleeping bag is on the back, however it’s also the COLDEST way. I wanted to curl up in a ball to prevent the chilling air from getting to me. I didn’t hadn’t slept well but because I had 9-10 hours of tossing and turning time, I felt rested. All in all I felt pretty good… which I took to be a positive sign.

We awakened to the same ritual as the evening before Regnad,  our friendly waiter, knocked on our tent, greeting us with a big smile as he squatted down to prepare our morning tea (black tea, sugar, and milk powder) the warmth of which was comforting and energizing. Teatime was followed by a hot water bath, then a quick change of clothes and packing our beds back into the 30kg dry bags that the porters would carry atop their head to the next camp (I admired the strength, agility, and friendliness of these guys).

We regrouped with our small hiking family in the food tent and enjoyed some fried eggs, fruit, millet porridge and meat sausages that (thanks to Jen’s taste buds) would be refereed to as eyeball sausages for the rest of the week and become the catalyst for jokes and laughter.

Back on the trail, the hike was long but pleasant. My body was adjusting to the weight on my back and my feet cooperating with continuous movement they were being asked to perform. Day 2 would take us to 12,480 feet to Shira Camp bringing us deeper into the moorland climate where there’s visibly less greenery and hints of the desert climate that awaited us.

Hiding out in a cave to eat lunch

It was here that I caught my first glimpse of Kiliminjaro in all its might (and fright) towering behind our camp miles high and covered with snow. When we arrived at camp that afternoon Kili was hiding behind clouds, it wasn’t until I stepped out of my tent for a nature break in the middle of the night that I looked up at first mesmerized by the millions of stars covering the dark sky, I then gazed over to my right and nearly stopped what I was doing (mid stream) at the sight of Kili. I felt the panic setting into my body but at the same time I couldn’t take my eyes of it. The mountain top looked magnificient and peaceful and then I thought “this is REALLY happening!” as if it wasn’t already happening.

Kiliminjaro in the camp background

I crawled back into my tent and laid in my sleeping bag, panic stricken and heart racing. “Mind over matter. Mind over matter. Mind over matter. “ I thought to myself as I practiced some deep breathing exercises and fell asleep.

dancing on day 2

Jan 13, 2014

Mambo Kilimanjaro

Mambo means "hello" or "whats up" in Swahili and is commonly responded with poa meaning "cool". Everyone and I mean EVERYONE says hello to you in Tanzania and especially on the mountain. It was nice to hear the small talk Swahili chatter amidst the hard work and gasps for air.

We were officially on the mountain and en route to the summit. The first couple of hours passed quickly with playful conversations as we continued to get to know the small group that would become our vital support system over the next week. 

As the hours went on I could feel the weight that was settling in on my back. 3 liters of waters gets heavy after a while. I hadn’t ever backpacked before, unless carrying my backpack with my computer to work every day somehow counts. I had no idea what it meant to carry 3-4 liters of water plus food and extra clothes on my back for 1 day let alone 7 days. 

My shoulders started getting tired and my neck stiffening on one side. I tried readjusting my pack while walking only to make matters worse. I left it alone hoping my body would eventually adjust to the added weight or go numb in the appropriate areas. I think a little of both happened in the days that followed.

We would be gaining 5000 feet of elevation today and camping at about 10,600 feet, our first step at acclimating to altitude. For some reason 10,600 feet didn’t seem intimidating to me. In my head I equated it to being in Tahoe and since I did the death ride (the hardest ride I’ve ever done) I should be able to handle 10,600 feet. As we gained elevation I noticed my breathing getting shallower and my mind questioning how I’m feeling and making me second-guess if I could actually breathe. The monkey mind was already getting riled up…

The mind is extremely interesting and clever. It has the ability to create feelings, emotions, and experiences that never existed. The mind creates fear and fear begets fear. However, when controlled the mind also creates power and power begets power. My goal was the latter.

A couple hours into the hike and we entered the rain forest with no signs of rain… at first. Soon enough I felt sprinkles on my body and before I could finish my thought “it’s starting to rain” we were caught in a complete downpour. This was my first real meeting with the elements on a trail in the middle of the rain forest there’s no place to escape the elements, you have to embrace them and move on.

We grabbed our ponchos (an absolute must) and threw them on as quickly as possible, covering our head, body, and pack. The only thing worse than hiking in the rain with elevation is doing it in the dark. The day quickly turned to night as we approached Macheme Camp. Excited voices filled the air, we had survived day 1 of the climb. It was time to rest.

Our tents were next to trees, mud and the outhouse – a lovely aromatic combination as you can imagine. Jenny and I kicked off our shoes and crawled into the tent to settle in for our first night. I’ve gone camping only once and have never shared a tent with anyone, the idea of two people in a small-enclosed space was not appealing but in this case I appreciated the extra body generating heat in the small space.

Soon after we got into the tent the waiter (yes there was a waiter) came by announcing he had brought a hot water bath. The bath became a ritual I looked forward to daily. It consisted of a small bowl with hot water used for “bathing”. I first washed my face, the warmth of the water soothing my tired skin and slowly bringing me back to life. Then I soaked a bath wipe (imagine a wet napkin with soap on it) and wiped my arms, neck, and legs with it. Finally it was foot soak time (jenny’s fabulous idea) I took of my socks and placed my tired feet into the hot water, it was heavenly! I laughed at our rudimentary ritual, so simple yet so soothing.

Bathed, changed, and dry we headed out for dinner and by heading out I mean crawling out of our tent and placing our feet back into our dirty hiking boots and walking a few feet to the food tent.

Before getting on the trail the guide asked about any allergies. I wanted to say “I’m paleo” but I didn’t think it would fly so instead I said I’m allergic gluten and can manage as long as there is meat and veggies provided.  

Africa is big on bread, I learned this on the climb and on safari. The first couple of days I avoided the bread and ate the soup, meat, rice and veggies that were served. Eventually I broke down from depleted calories and hunger and had the bread and pasta that were being served but it wasn’t without consequences of night time heart burn and belly bloat… thankfully I had Pepcid. 

All in all the meals far exceeded my expectations of dehydrated food and protein bars. We had a cook that prepared all the meals and a waiter that served us with a big smile. Given how exhausted we were daily, the food was a delicious gift.  It was time to hit the sleeping bag and rest up for another long day. 

Right when I was cozy in my bag fully clothed complete with socks, jacket and beanie… nature called. I tried to ignore my bladders request for relief to avoid leaving my nylon shelter. Eventually my bladder was screaming at me and I gave in to the urge and crawled out of my tent and into my shoes with my headlamp on. I walked behind a tree and squatted down holding on to a tree branch for balance and at inspecting my surroundings for any critters, lucky for me there were none. 

I glanced up and was mesmerized by the blanket of stars that twinkled above. I felt small very small on this gigantic mountain.

Jan 12, 2014

Shiva Shakti

Now that bag drama had finally ended I could move on to thinking about and obsessing over other things like “what the hell am I doing climbing a 19,340 foot mountain!” Albeit the thought should have crossed my mind prior to being a couple miles from the gate but I was a bit preoccupied. At the foot of the mountain it looked peaceful yet intimidating, I couldn’t see the snow at the top, hell I couldn’t even see the top. All I saw were foreigners from everywhere gathered at the gate with their tour operators. Some were outfitted in the best of best trekking gear and others in lululemon tanks and groove pants. 

There were people of all shapes and sizes and probably of all fitness levels all here to summit this mountain and make it to Uhuru Peak, the highest point on this mountain named after the Swahili word meaning “freedom”.  I liked the sound of standing on top of Freedom Peak.

Some of the bloggers I had started following suggested bringing something to leave at the peak. I brought a small yet powerful Shiva statue with the intention of placing Shiva on top of the highest peak in Africa. What I didn’t know then was that Shiva statue had the intention of also placing ME on the tallest peak in Africa.

Shiva is a Hindu deity typically characterized by dreadlocks and blue coloring, sitting on tiger skin in peace and rage. He was the deity that I’d grown fond of as a kid when my dad told me that by reciting Shiva’s name “Om Namah Shivaya” 7 times, all my fears would go away. I never stopped reciting this mantra and developed a strong connection to this powerfully chaotic and deeply passionate deity.  I don’t know if it was the cold weather, the malaria meds, or the altitude but whenever I had doubt in my head if I could get to the top there was a voice that spoke back invoking in me an unknown confidence and faith to keep moving forward, I had a job to complete and that was to get Shiva to the top of the mountain.