The Love Bubble that is the AIDS Lifecycle


{Clay and me at the Opening Ceremonies on Day 1 in San Francisco}

It’s hard to know where to begin this post. Last week, I rode my bike (along with 2200 other people) 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles over 7 days. As you can imagine, it was an experience filled with both agonizing pain and fatigue and also with unbridled joy and satisfaction — and everything in between (yes, even long stretches of boredom). The experience was so intense that it’s hard to know what to say or how to even communicate it in words.

Obviously, there was the physical challenge. The average daily mileage was 80-100 miles, and every single day included climbing, sometimes miles and miles of steep hills. There was the day that we rode 109 miles from Santa Cruz to King City — 60 of those miles in rain, hail and wind so strong it was blowing cyclists over. Only 800 of 2200 cyclists made it past the lunch stop that day to complete the 109 miles. We were two of them. There was the day we climbed the “Evil Twins,” a long and grueling stretch of mountain that took us to the 1/2 way point in the ride in the middle of California, high above a gorgeous valley. And the crazy, long, steep descent on the other side with cross-winds so strong we had to hang on for dear life.

Then, at the end of each day, you set up a tent in camp in the cold and wind (the weather was pretty cold almost every day with some exceptions) and then wake up at 4:30 in the morning to start over again, muscles aching. I could go on and on about the physical challenge, because it was intense and probably the first thing people think about when they think about riding a bike through California.

{Clay and me — Half Way to LA on Day 4}

There were the amazing views and scenery — definitely some of the highlights of the trip, and part of what made the pain so worth it.

{Somewhere along the coast of California on Day 4}

California is one of the most beautiful places in the universe and I felt so privileged to see so much of it on my bicycle.

And there was the fun. Every rest stop included drag queens and music and copious amounts of food. The photos below are from Red Dress Day, where every single one of the 2200 riders wears red to honor those we’ve lost and to joyfully renew our commitment to the cause of ending the AIDS epidemic.

{Red Dress Day on Day 5}

But while the physical challenge was enormous, the scenery fantastic, and the entertainment never-ending, what I will remember most is that I was left feeling completely and totally humbled every single day. Sure, I did this ride (and it was hard), and I raised some money and made some personal sacrifices. But compared to most people I met out there, what I did was nothing. On the road you would see men and women who were clearly 65 or 70 or 75 years old — and most of them rode every single mile, climbing the steepest hills with the rest of us. Or you would see men or women who must have weighed 300 or more pounds doing the same, with HUGE smiles on their faces. They might not have been going fast, but they were going. Or you would see hundreds and hundreds of men and women who were HIV positive (they are called the “Positive Peddlers” and wear special jerseys), some of whom have done this ride every year since they were diagnosed. Or you would see people who raised not $3000 but $30,000 or more for the ride (top fundraisers were also designated with special jerseys). There were “roadies”, 500 of whom volunteered their time to make this ride happen, setting up every rest stop, camp site (complete with showers, food for all, massage, chiropractic care, medical care, etc), monitoring the route, hauling our gear for us, always cheering us on.

Because of these people and this experience, I spent each day feeling like I never wanted to complain about anything again, that I wanted only to be a positive force in this world. I felt so inspired by everyone I met or passed on the road. Gay, straight, black, white, Asian, Latino, big, small, young, old, we were all there for one reason: we had been touched in some way by AIDS or HIV. Some of us had lost friends. Some had lost family. Some had HIV. Some had been living with it for 30 years. Some had been saved by the services offered by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation or the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. We all wanted to do something, to give back, to remember, to honor, to contribute. It was a big love bubble, and I will never forget it. I am forever changed because of it.

{A fantastic rest stop on Day 2; Clay and me at the finish of the ride on Day 7}

I want to thank EVERY SINGLE PERSON who wrote Clay and me words of encouragement and love on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or by email while we were on the ride. I also want to thank EVERY SINGLE PERSON who donated money to my fundraising efforts. Every single one of you made this experience richer for us than we ever could have imagined. Thank you so much.

Coming tomorrow: some fun statistics about my ride. Until then, have a fantastic day. It’s good to be back.