|PHOTO BY PHYLLIS COSTA
By Karen Bardsley
It turns out that biking to L.A. from San Francisco is not the easiest thing to do. Undertaking this task as a part of the AIDS/LifeCycle ride, however, makes a gargantuan task manageable. The rest stops certainly help, since they break the route into small chunks that you can just about get your mind around. The â€śroadieâ€ť volunteers help too, because they lug all your gear from camp to camp, cruise up and down the route to assist riders in trouble, and wait at every major intersection to make sure that you find your way safely to the next stop. What really makes the ride doable, though, is the inspiration you get from the hundreds of people who line the route to cheer you on and from the knowledge that what you are doing is really making a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Day 1: Today we gathered at the uncivilized hour of 5 am at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. It was a fitting starting point, since we formed quite the herd as we rode out together after opening ceremonies. This year the ride includes more than 2,225 riders and 550 roadies. We made our way through the city in the early morning fog. The sun came out just in time to bake us as we climbed some gruelingly steep hills on the way Half Moon Bay. Fortunately, the landscape began to roll more gently as the day progressed, and we were treated to an afternoon of ocean views. Tonight we make our first camp (a.k.a. small village complete with a store, restaurant and medical facilities) in Santa Cruz. 82.5 miles down and 462.5 to go.
Day 2: What was supposed to be a 109-mile challenge for us today turned into a challenge for the ride organizers. As we made our way through miles of strawberry fields, rain started to pour down. Good for the berries, perhaps, but not for the bikers. By midday, conditions were so bad that they closed the route. The support buses went back and forth to collect riders stranded on the road, and emergency services found shelters for the riders stuck at rest stops. This being the AIDS/LifeCycle ride, it wasnâ€™t long before an impromptu fashion show began with men and women strutting around in dresses fashioned from Mylar emergency blankets. Eventually, we were taken to camp in chartered buses. There the sun was out, and we were able to dry ourselves (successfully) and our gear (somewhat successfully) in preparation for tomorrow.
Day 3: Today was a â€ślightâ€ť day of only 66.7 miles. It did contain, however, the dreaded â€śQuad Buster:â€ť 1.5 miles of agonizing steepness. After much reflection, I decided to tackle it with a slow and steady pace. OK, I lied about the reflection part. A snailâ€™s pace was my only option. I made it to the top, though, without having to walk my bike. I felt pretty proud of myself too, until I saw people zooming back down the hill to do the Quad Buster one more time. I hear that someone did it four times. Thereâ€™s a word for people like that. Actually, there are two words: certifiably insane.
Day 4: 97.7 miles done in a day, and boy does everything hurt! I mounted my trusty steed at 7:30 and by eleven oâ€™clock I had bested the two massive hills known as the Evil Twins. Just after the second Twin, we stopped to line up for pictures at the scenic overlook with a â€śHalfway to L.A.â€ť sign. One waits in a lot of lines during the AIDS/LifeCycle ride, but this was one that I certainly did not mind.
Day 5: Today was our fun day. The mileage, at 44 miles, was the lightest on the route. This turned out to be a good thing since some guys biked it in heels. â€śHeels?â€ť you say. â€śGuys?â€ť you ask. Yes, heels and guys indeed, for today was the famous â€śdress redâ€ť day where the AIDS/LifeCycle riders all wear red so they can look like a giant red ribbon moving across the countryside. Apparently a number of years ago someone decided that dress red day should be â€śred dress dayâ€ť and now almost all of the guys (gay or straight), and most of the women, bike in red dresses. Iâ€™m afraid that I heard about the red dress tradition too late to find a suitable garment, but if I ever do this ride again Iâ€™m definitely going for something with sequins.
Day 6: At 84 miles, this was our last long day. We started the morning with an hour and a half of gentle climbing, followed by a twenty minute descent down a steep mountain pass and over some foothills to the sea. There, at our second rest stop, we caught our breath, gazed out over the Pacific and watched a pod of dolphins swim by. Soon we were biking through Santa Barbara where every year a group of local supporters give the riders ice cream and cookies. Now, thatâ€™s my kind of town!
Tonight we are camped on the beach in Ventura. After dinner, most of us participated in a candle light vigil to honor those lost to HIV/AIDS.
Thousands of people silently walked with candles to the beach, where we all sat for a few moments. Slowly at first and then in greater numbers, people got up to extinguish their candles in the waves. It was a moving sight and a powerful reminder of who we have lost to this disease.
Day 7: I did it. I biked to LA! I crossed the finish line at 2 pm, and boy did it feel great and not just because I got to get off that bike seat. We did good work this week. Together, we raised over 12.6 million dollars to help fight HIV/AIDS, a disease that has already claimed more than 617,000 Americans and millions more worldwide. Today the riders really felt like a community. We made our way from Ventura to L.A. on the Pacific Coast Highway, which meant highway traffic on our left and the parked cars of beach goers on our right. As a result, we ended up sticking together more than ever before, cruising along and calling out potential hazards down the line. Fortunately, after the requisite number of steep hills, I got through the dayâ€™s 60 miles and crossed the finish line at the VA center, where my girlfriend was waiting. As dedicated as I am to the ride and its cause, for the last sixty miles I was biking solely to get to her.
If you think you might enjoy participating in the ride next year, visit the AIDS/LifeCycle website at http://www.aidslifecycle.org. I am seriously thinking about going again myself, though only if my girlfriend comes with me. She is seriously thinking about it too, and not just because my randomly assigned tent-mate this year turned out to be a lesbian erotic dancerâ€¦ You just gotta love this ride.