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 my sabbatical request 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 port-a-potties, not sleeping on a real bed, or taking a real shower didn’t seem appealing.
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 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. David gave a thumbs-up to each rider who passed as I fixed the flat tire.
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 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 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, I intended to write a blog post each day of the ride. I thought I’d have plenty of time to collect my thoughts each day. After posting on an ALC rider’s Facebook group, I found out the days are pretty busy, and taking a laptop or iPad isn’t a good idea.
A typical day on AIDS/LifeCycle consists of waking up at 5 am and getting into your cycling gear. You take down your tent, pack your bag, and deliver it to the designated truck. Then, you head off to the dining tent for a hearty breakfast. After breakfast, you make last-minute stops before venturing off to start the day in the saddle.
The days ranged from 44 to 109 miles, with rest stops every 15-20 miles. The rest stops were fully equipped with delicious treats, Gatorade, water, bike technicians, port-a-potties, medical, and even entertainment! There were short hilly days and long 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 large strawberry, avocado, and artichoke fields. There were days filled with rolling hills and beautiful vineyards. There were days on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), 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 my team, the Pork Pedalers, or with friends who were members of Seattle-based Team of One. By mid-day, you’d break into smaller groups of riders riding at your pace.
Each day when you ride into camp, you are greeted by a crowd of cheering, enthusiastic roadies. The first thing you do is park your bike in the vast secure bike parking. Then make your way to your gear truck to pick up your luggage and tent. You find your space on the grid, 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!
After a shower and shaving, you’d head over to the cold wash stations if you had laundry to wash. After all this, it was time for dinner and evening announcements. By the time dinner wrapped up, it was 8 pm, when 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 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.
The thing I liked most about the ride was the diversity of people. There were people of all skill and fitness levels, 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 invested in ALC and had a heartfelt story about why they were riding.
What does one do on a bicycle for 6 to 12 hours daily? ALC bans listening to music via headphones, portable speakers, or mobile devices for safety. Riders are required to ride single-file, except when passing. As a result, you focus on the road, the beautiful sights, smells, and sounds. 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 affected by HIV and AIDS
- The donors who supported my efforts
- Losing my grandma to lung cancer in 2012
- Everyone putting forth the time and effort on the ride
- My best friends who moved to San Francisco in July 2013
The thoughts brought tears to my eyes several times during the week.
On Day Seven, we rode from Ventura to Los Angeles. It was a relatively easy 60 miles 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. 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 difficulty eating. I wish I could have talked with him more and shared how much I admired his will and passion. I wish I had hugged him. Tears streamed down my face as I walked back to camp.
I’m so thankful my employer offered this opportunity—a month from work to do something meaningful to me and thousands of others in California and worldwide.