One of the best memories that I have of Los Angeles, is not necessarily Los Angeles, but an activity which took me from San Francisco to L.A. It wasn’t for myself, it was to help another human being, someone that I didn’t even know. I rode a bicycle 563 miles to raise money -- and awareness -- for AIDS and HIV research and education.
Certainly I had known those with AIDS, but I buried the last in 1998. Collectively, we have buried more than 25 million family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers since 1981. And, 2.7 million new cases are reported every year.
I couldn’t sit on my butt, er, actually I could, as I pedaled those miles, each mile representing 1 pill for someone desperately in need. For example, Aptivus, which has the ability to inhibit the replication of viruses that are resistant to other protease inhibitors, and that is recommended for patients who are resistant to other treatments, can cost upwards of $1,100 a month.
The Mission: Ride To End AIDS (www.aidslifecycle.org)
The Amount To Raise: $11 million (to fund the GLBT centers in LA and San Francisco)
The AIDS Lifecycle (ALC) is a fully supported ride with Roadies, medical personnel and cheerleaders to help along the way. All meals are included, and you are given a tent to camp in, with shower and toilet facilities for you to use. (Wow. What can I say about the mobile showers with lukewarm water and the "dear God" port-o-potties?) All you have to do is raise $2500 in sponsorship for this amazing memory. Oh, and train. Seriously, for like nine months.
Day 1: San Francisco to Santa Cruz
After the Opening Ceremonies I rode ride out from the Cow Palace in Daly City (along with 2500 of my closest friends) with a quick change from the rolling hills of the city to the mountains surrounding the bay area.
One of the treats was pumping up a 12-mile climb with 6% grade. When I thought my lungs would burst, I was only half-way. However, there was a nice African drumming corp keeping a beat for us at the midway point. From looking up at the redwood trees I started looking down at them, and deer could be seen running next to us in the forest. Lunch was atop a bluff with an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean.
This is when I discovered two vital things: 1) Keep your mouth shut going down hill or you’ll swallow a bug. 2) When I asked what happened if it rains, the reply was, "Pedal faster."
Day 2: Santa Cruz to King City
After dodging rush hour commuters we spent a long day (and over a 100 miles) pedaling. The flat terrain boasts vineyards and fields of artichokes and strawberries. There was a place to stop to purchase a steamed artichoke, which proved a very nice break.
That night, after the best dinner ever (grilled meats of all sorts), we collapsed in our tents to discover the sound of wind. And more wind. Washed outfits flew from make-shift clotheslines and more then one tent blew over. We thought we’d lose a port-o-potty or two.
Day 3: King City to Paso Robles
You know when bicyclists name a hill, it’s going to be a rough climb. Today was Quadbusters, followed by an unnamed hill, which we quickly dubbed ‘Brokeback Mountain’.
Today, I was honored by being inducted into the ‘Positive Pedalers’. Three of the group gave me pig ears for my helmet and I was given a pig-name, Slops. (A PIG is Passion In Gear). I honestly don’t know if ‘Positive Pedalers’ stood for their HIV status or their energy.
Day 4: Paso Robles to Santa Maria
The Evil Twins. Another glorious hill. But, by the second Twin, I was half-way to L.A. Then came some farmland, rolling vistas and seaside towns, such as Pismo Beach, where they welcomed us with saltwater taffy. (The great thing about this ride is that you can eat EVERYTHING and still wear off the calories. I lost 20 pounds!).
Along the second hill the Opera Singer arrived. He sang ‘Habanera’ from Carmen, ‘O Patria Mia’ from Aida, ‘Una Furtiva’ from the Elixir of Love, and ‘Porgi Amor’ from The Marriage of Figaro, until each and every rider had made it to the top.
I also had the honor of meeting Ginger Brulee, a drag queen who cheered us on from start to finish, and Beth, the transportation manager who stood by every morning flashing riders as we headed out from camp. (She wore a different colored bra every day).
I did the ride for people, but it was the people who really made the ride.
Day 5: Santa Maria to Lompoc
This was a wine country day, with many miles through rolling vineyards. Lunch was served in the Danish-inspired town of Solvang.
The best part of the day: Red Dress. Many years ago, when the ride first began to be an annual event, a rider noted that the stream of bicyclists winding through a twisting hill looked like the AIDS Ribbon. It became ‘Dress in Red’ Day. Or, given to a group of fashionable gay guys, Red Dress Day.
Yes, the beads, lace and wigs all came out in force. Everyone was deepingly impressed by the queen who turned his 6-inch stilettos into bike clips. After lunch I had to stop to help another poor queen. Her feather boa had become trapped in her wheel spokes. Sadly, I had to snip her free. (Only during the ALC will a biker every encounter an "Accessory Accident").
Now, imagine this display rolling through Kalispell (where the population is under 1,000... including dogs). But, the townspeople opened up the general store to hand out ice pops and turned up their stereos in the street. We were the biggest thing to hit town all year. And, every rider bought at least one candy bar from the kids trying to raise money for the Little League.
Day 6: Lompoc to Ventura
This day brought wildflower-covered ranch lands followed by riding the rolling hills next to the coast. The day couldn’t have been prettier. But, I had been warned, as you get more tired, and are alone on long stretches of road, you start thinking. And I was reviewing my life. Though it wasn’t pretty, and I was disappointed in some things, I made a vow to continue writing, as long as it took to get published. (If you do this ride, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Your demons will appear.)
And, this day I embraced a biker’s product. Butt Butt’r. On day one I slid discreetly into the port-o-potty and applied it carefully. By day six I dropped my shorts in broad daylight and slathered it maniacally with a smile on my face.
Day 7: Ventura to Los Angeles
I passed a few small towns, and could see military aircraft taking off from the Naval Air Station before I began the rollers in Malibu. And, I must say it was nice to see the Ferrari-drivers pull over and get out to applaud -- everyone in L.A. knew that we were coming. The last part of the trip is filled with banners and well-wishers.
But, my highlight is the Santa Barbara Pit Stop. The entire SB Bike Club rode with us and/or stuffed us with cookies and home-made ice cream. They go all out. Trust me.
Though the Ride was filled with so much goodness, one moment was more poignant than any other. In a small town along the coast I stopped at a family-run convenience store. I was out of Gatorade. The young clerk behind the counter asked me about all of the bicyclists and I explained the Ride to her. She paused then announced "You should ride to New York, across the whole country." She didn’t charge me for the Gatorade. If an event like that was organized, I wouldn’t hesitate to sign up, because for one week I saw the world as it should be. Everyone helping each other, and people focused on one goal, a goal which could change the world.