Though times have changed, I believe it’s important for younger LGBTQ generations to recognize and honor the experiences and stories of those before our time.

AIDS lifecycle

I signed up for AIDS/LifeCycle because I wanted to honor and commemorate the legacy of those before me who lived through and died from the AIDS epidemic, often without support or care from their families, churches, and hospitals.

I am fortunate to have a strong relationship with an uncle who lived through the worst days of the AIDS crisis and shared his experience of living through that time. Through his story, I felt a deep sense of connection and empathy with him and the greater LGBTQ community.  Thus, I wanted to do my part to contribute to the betterment of our future.

AIDS/LifeCycle is many things wrapped up in one. It’s a touching and meaningful tribute to LGBTQ history and culture.  But it’s also summer camp for adults on wheels, a Gay Paradise, and a Love Bubble. Plus, it’s a major fundraising initiative, and it’s one of the most beautiful extended bike rides in the world (545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, much of it along the coastline). Everyone who participates must raise a minimum of $3,000. The money fundraised goes to the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. The ride serves as both organizations’ primary fundraising initiative.

AIDS Lifecycle

Over 2200 people from all over the country (and the world) participate. Many are part of the LGBTQ community, but many are straight allies who come from all walks of life. The youngest rider is 19, and the oldest is 93. The ride covers some serious distance as well as some difficult terrain – hilly vineyards to hot desert to coastal cliffsides. It’s also generously supported, which means there’s a fully equipped rest stop every 20 miles or so with food, water, bike maintenance and repair, and medical assistance. Each rest stop is themed, and often features dances, performances, and elaborate costuming on the part of the rest stop teams.

This year’s ride was my second, and I was privileged to serve as the captain of the largest corporate team on the ride, team Walmart/Jet, with 49 riders. My experience this time was vastly different than my first, in part because of my responsibilities as captain, but also because I had different priorities.

Last year, I treated the ride like a race, and sped through each day to see how fast I could finish.  This was often at the expense of stopping to take pictures, hang out at rest stops, or build relationships with others. This year, I wanted to balance my need for speed with experiencing what the ride offers more fully.

So, some days I chose to ride slower and stick with a group of people with whom I wanted to spend time. I also opened myself up to building relationships with people who weren’t on my team. And I stopped to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and experiences along the way.

Here are some highlights from each day:

Day 1

AIDS Lifecycle

I’m up at 3:30 a.m. to shower, get dressed, finish packing, and head to the office. The shuttle picks us up at 4:30 to head to Cow Palace for the opening ceremony. Once there, I gather the team, we eat breakfast, and we do morning stretches.

At 6 a.m., the emotional opening ceremony begins with an empty bike carried down the middle of Cow Palace to symbolize those lost to HIV. That empty seat symbolizes who I ride for. After a few words from the ride organizers, we’re set loose! Our team rides out together, and we quickly find ourselves riding along the Pacific Ocean out of San Francisco and towards Santa Cruz. It’s a beautiful morning, and the blue sky and water juxtaposed against the bright green foliage is stunning.

At the end of a long hill, we reach a gaggle of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, where they hand out strawberries and blow kisses to passing riders. I finally get my long-desired photo with Sister Roma, who bears the distinction of being “The Most Photographed Nun in the World.” At lunch, an ALC staff member notifies me that several members of my team aren’t riding safely. I send out a note to the group imploring them to pass safely and not ride two abreast.

AIDS lifecycle

After lunch on the beach, we cycle up a long hill, and then ride along the water until we reach Santa Cruz. The first night in camp is always fun as the newbies try to figure out camp life. The first evening’s dinner of chicken and macaroni and cheese is consumed enthusiastically. After dinner, I call a team huddle to debrief the day and remind them of safety rules. They all affirm they’ll be more careful, and we then go to our tents and fall asleep quickly.

Day 2

AIDS lifecycle

Up at 4 a.m. and in the breakfast line by 4:15. After washing down eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, oatmeal, yogurt and fruit with some coffee, I get dressed, tear down the tent, and am on the road with my riding buddies by 6:15. As we navigate out of Santa Cruz, I hit a flat just after the first rest stop. I cycle back on an empty tire, and fall behind my group.

After riding solo for a few dozen miles, I catch up with some of my team at the artichoke stop, a must-try rest stop featuring freshly picked deep-fried artichokes and other local delicacies. We press on through the flat, hot valley, surrounded by fields of fruit and vegetables. Workers busily pick berries, and run full speed to and from trucks. I’m so impressed with their work ethic. After lunch, it gets hotter and hotter – up to 95 degrees. And the road stretches on and on as we rack up the miles. Mid-afternoon, a gnarly headwind makes progress difficult until a few bends in the road put it at our back. We speed towards camp, sometimes reaching 35 miles an hour on extended flat stretches.

Finally, we reach my favorite rest stop: The Otter Pop Stop.

AIDS lifecycle

The Otter Pop Stop is hosted by some local bears, and resembles Burning Man – brightly colored flags, big men in outrageous costumes, and lots of eye candy. The stop is set up at an old Spanish mission, and cyclists are allowed to tour the old church. “The Cookie Lady” hands out homemade cookies and people pose for pictures in the midst of the pulsing, dancing crowd. It’s a ton of fun.

AIDS lifecycle

After we’ve partied enough, we continue until we reach a creek. We decide to join several other cyclists in skinny dipping in the stream. The cool water restores my tired muscles and gives me the energy to continue the remaining 20 miles to camp. All told, we ride almost 110 miles that day. By the time we finish, our bodies ache and muscles burn. We all sleep well that night.

AIDS lifecycle

Day 3

Up at 4 again. On the road by 6:30. The ride starts with Quadbuster, the notorious 1.2 mile steep hill. I haul ass, and then wait at the top for my riding buddies so I can cheer them on. We take a photo after a group gathers and then zoom down to rest stop 2 where we refuel on homemade banana bread that some Methodist church ladies hand out to riders. My riding buddy and I speed through the rest of the day, as we’ve rented a hotel room with a pool! We get there by 2 pm and lounge until we meet up with the rest of the team at Big Bubba’s BBQ for drinks and dinner outside camp. We have a grand time celebrating our progress. Then go back to camp for the night’s stage presentation where we honor HIV+ riders and top fundraisers.

AIDS lifecycle

Day 4

Another beautiful day riding along the ocean. The blue sky, green palm trees, and deep blue ocean make for some amazing views. We officially cross the line from Northern California to Southern California. The highlight of the ride is the cinnamon bun stop in Pismo Beach where all riders stop for the most amazing cinnamon buns. I wolf down a pecan bun with cream cheese frosting. The sugar high carries me into camp. As soon as I get there, I’m made aware of another safety violation on my team. While I contemplate how to handle it, my Ride Crush, a beautiful man who I’ve always been too shy to speak with, approaches me. We end up “talking” all evening.

AIDS lifecycle

Stay tuned for Days 5 – 7 and my reflections after the ride.