When I first read about AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC), a 7-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it immediately appealed to me. I was eligible for a one-month sabbatical but wasn’t sure I’d be able to take time off in June, because of a high-priority project with a launch date of June 11, 2013. I was thrilled when my sabbatical was approved in December 2012.
A few unpleasant thoughts came to mind just a few months before the ride. I love the outdoors, but 7-days camping in a tent, using portapotties, not sleeping on a real bed, or taking a real shower didn’t sound like something I was cut out for.
My first ALC ride was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The unpleasant thoughts quickly faded upon experiencing the energy and passion of other ALC riders and roadies. Everyone on the ride was more than happy to chat and get to know you. Riders were also very friendly when something went wrong. I had one flat tire during the ride; I was with my friend David, who stopped to offer emotional support. What he did is, give a thumbs-up to each rider who passed, as I fixed the flat tire. Otherwise, I would have been asked if I was okay dozens of times.
The thing I liked most about the ride was the diversity of the people involved.
This year was a historic one for ALC. With the help of thousands of generous donors, 2,203 cyclists and 552 roadies (volunteers) raised $14.2 million dollars to support the parent organizations and the services they provide to those in California. I had the opportunity to meet a small fraction of the nearly 3,000 people involved, but each and every interaction I had was delightful.
Everyone was so invested in this. Everyone had a heartfelt story about why they became involved with AIDS/LifeCycle.
Initially, my intent was to write a blog post each day of the ride. I thought I’d be sitting around each evening with time to collect my thoughts. After posting on an ALC riders Facebook group, I quickly found out the days are quite busy and taking a laptop or iPad wasn’t a good idea.
A typical day on AIDS/LifeCycle consists of waking up at 5 am and getting into your cycling gear. Next, you take down your tent, pack your bag, and deliver it to the designated gear truck. Then, you head off to the dining tent for a healthy, hearty breakfast. After breakfast, you make last-minute stops before venturing off to bike parking to start the day in the saddle.
The days ranged from 44 to 109-miles with rest stops placed every 15-20 miles. The rest stops were fully-equipped, with all sorts of delicious treats, Gatorade, water, bike technicians, portapotties, medical, and even entertainment! There were shorter hilly days and longer, flat days with rolling plains, similar to what I’m used to in Central Kansas. There were days with ocean and mountain views. There were days of riding through massive strawberry, avocado, and artichoke fields. There were days filled with rolling hills and beautiful vineyards. There were days on Pacific Coast Highway riding on the shoulder as cars and trucks zoomed by at more than 65 miles-per-hour, and days with a mix of bike trails, country roads, and city streets winding through the small towns of California.
The ALC ride and everyone involved provided a pristine example of how an ideal society might function.
Most days, I’d start out riding with either my team, the Pork Pedaler’s or with friends who were members of Seattle-based Team of One. By mid-day, you’d usually break into smaller groups of riders who were riding at your pace. Some days this would be team members and others it would be with other friendly ALC riders.
When you ride into camp each day, you’re greeted by a crowd of cheering, enthusiastic roadies. The first thing you do is park your bike in the huge secure bike parking. Then make your way to your gear truck to pick up your luggage and tent. You find your space on the tent grid and set up your tent, and unpack your belongings for a much-needed visit to the shower trucks. I’ve not seen shower trucks before, they are semi-trailers with about 20-25 private shower stalls each. The water pressure was excellent, but I forgot to pack a towel. Luckily, my friend Matt packed an extra, which he let me have.
After a shower and shave, if you had laundry to wash, you’d head over to the cold wash stations. After all this, it was time for dinner and evening announcements. By the time dinner wrapped up, it was 8pm ish, at which time you’d head back to your tent to wind down and prepare for the next day. We had a few fun nights where we gathered to play board games, or we went to a nearby restaurant for some non-camp food. In the early-evening when camp started to fill up, mobile phone and data service would quickly diminish.
I enjoyed the ALC so much that I already signed up for AIDS/LifeCycle 2014.
The thing I liked most about the ride was the diversity of the people involved. There were people of all skill and fitness levels. There were people from all backgrounds, nationalities, races, and age groups. There were gay, lesbian, straight, HIV-positive and HIV-negative people. I sometimes see these groups co-mingling in Kansas City, but it’s with far less frequency, cohesiveness, and energy toward a common goal. Everyone is so invested in this and has a heartfelt story about why they are riding. The ALC ride and everyone involved provided a pristine example of how an ideal society might function.
What does one do on a bicycle for 4 to 8-hours per-day? For safety, ALC banned listening to music via headphones, portable speakers, or mobile devices. Riders are required to ride single-file, except when passing. This means you focus on the road, the wonderful sights, smells, and sounds that surround you. You do lots of thinking. Many thoughts crossed my mind as I rode:
- Losing Ruby, my 9-year old black lab earlier this year
- Losing my Uncle Doug to HIV-related complications in 1986
- The people I know who are HIV-positive
- The donors who supported my efforts
- Losing Granny to lung cancer last year
- Everyone who was putting forth the time and effort on the ride
- My best friends Mike and Zack who are moving to San Francisco in July 2013
- My wonderful friends and family
These thoughts brought tears to my eyes several times during the ride.
On Day Seven, we rode from Ventura to Los Angeles. It was a relatively easy 60-mile day with a few rolling hills and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. The best part of the day was seeing my friends, Mike, Zack, Scott, and Shawn at the finish line to welcome me. I said goodbye to ALC friends from California, Portland, Denver, Birmingham, Seattle, and even a cyclist from St. Louis.
In closing, I’ll share a random powerful moment one night at dinner. One night, our team table filled up quickly. I ended up having dinner across from a middle-aged gentleman with disabilities. He had to communicate by typing on an iPad. He had trouble communicating with me and was even having trouble eating. I wish I could have communicated with him more and shared how much I admired his will and his passion. I wish I would have given him a hug. Tears streamed down my face as I walked back to camp.
I’m so thankful my employer offered this opportunity. A month away from work to do something meaningful to me and thousands of others in California and across the world.
Other Photos from AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC) 2013
- My photos from AIDS/LifeCycle 2013 – If I could change one thing, I would have taken more photos.
- Cycling from San Francisco to Los Angeles with Google Glass – Thanks to Kai Gradert!