Thursday, June 22, 2023

My final thoughts on the Aids Lifecycle ride of 2023

It's been just over a week since I returned home from the ride. Just like four years ago, it was a transformative experience in so many ways. Before I write my reflections, I do want to point out that you can still donate to the ride with the embedded link.

Riders, motivation, and fun

Some of the early people who have seen the blog and the movie have commented on it looking like it was all fun and games and a bit raunchy.  

On the type of humor, much of the crazy parts were staged for the cameras.  Well, red dress day was overall crazy and just good fun. The humor, decorations, and costumes of the rest stops did make it fun. And then you went back on the road for another 20 miles of cycling, remembering that these people spent the time to create these environments and fun.

It's hard work to ride 545 miles.  It's hard work to be up at 4:30 to prepare the route for the day or to serve food, work until 8:00 repairing bikes. So it's the fun and the respect for everyone on the ride that makes it an event and supports the love bubble. There were new riders to support when their spirits were flagging. There were people who got sick or injured and took the bus between camps rather than ride; you've read about me fessing up to that for 2019, where I was glad just to finish.

Yes, we had inside humor. But most of it was just this supportive and inclusive environment. So don't be offended. It was a largely LGBTQ event that was inclusive and accepting, and a mini pride parade every day, ending with the day of the pride parade in LA. 


What I am most happy about is how well I rode this year.  I did the ride in 2019 as part of the Get Out of the House team.  But what I did not talk about in 2019 is how tough the ride was for me, I had not properly trained, and I entered the ride tired. In 2019, I sagged from rest stop 4 to Santa Cruz on day 1 as my body was just too tired.  I sagged on day 4 coming into Paso Robles when the temperature was 105 and my body was sweating faster than it could absorb water. And I sagged on day 6 at rest stop 3 in Santa Barbara as I was just exhausted on the bike.

This year, with my training on 5 centuries (or close) over 5 weekends, I was in great shape.  Sure, I was not as fast as Peter, my forty-year-old son.  But I finished each day feeling strong, which was a great feeling. I did sag for 33 miles on day 5 when my rear wheel broke, and spare parts were only available at the end of the ride, but I was ready for that day, and a broken wheel was a pretty good excuse.  The best part of this was on the last day, from Ventura to Santa Monica, when the rest of the team gave me a head start.  They had bets going on whether they'd make it to the water stop, 7 miles from the end, before me.  I beat all three of them there, so Joe lost the bet. That made my day.


While I did talk to folks in 2019, I was much more concentrated on just making it through the ride. This year was different, as I knew that I had the strength to make it through, and I could afford the time to talk to people to talk, get pictures and memories. I still suck at selfies but have any number of memories from rest stops with both riders and roadies.

The two most common conversation starters were "how many times have you done the ride" and "why are you doing it or have done it for so many times." This can lead to deeper conversations at a rest stop or lunch than we have with strangers in "normal life."
  • It felt great to be there for a second year and to look out for new riders.  Whether it was telling folks how to roll up their windbreaker to fit into a jersey pocket or telling people when their gear bag was swinging back and forth and hitting her legs on each pedal stroke.
  • I talked to folks of all types, straight, gay, trans, or whatever, and really came to learn that we're all just people. I know it's obvious to say, but it's different when you live it. So it could be a talk about tattoos, the unfairness of tiny women with tiny bones that could go so fast (from a perspective of a woman weightlifter who went at about my pace, complaining that weightlifting was done in 15 minutes, but that 545 miles required endurance). Another woman told how her friends enrolled her in the ride 17 years ago to make a change in her life and that she realized that there was a bigger world out there and divorced her husband, remarried, and has had her husband and coworkers join her on the ride.  And then she asked why I ride and I told her about having a heart attack and double bypass 25 years ago and how I have been changing my life since, with biking, weight loss, etc.  She was a cardiac nurse, so she understood the situation well. We departed with mutual respect.
  • While red dress day seemed to be all fun, people had their reasons for each day. One veteran ride told me about his five friends who died from AIDS and how he dedicates one leg of the five switchbacks coming into Vandenberg to each of them as he rides.

The Love Bubble

The video below talks about this. I experienced it in 2019 but didn't really understand it until this year.  In 2019, I discovered this the morning of the second day, when a person in the breakfast line was just giving shoulder rubs to anyone in line while he was waiting for a friend.  I was originally standoffish, but did eventually warm up to it. It was the same thing when I left my bags at the gear truck on the first day and every day after that; it was expected (and welcome) to give both members of the crew a hug when dropping off the bags in the morning.

What I experienced this year was different. The shock of being around people so open had worn off. There were a number of openly trans folk that I talked to during the ride; they may have had a presence in 2019, but I don't remember it. As an example, a Berkeley/Oakland women's riding group, She Spoke, renamed their team We Spoke, with the inclusion of people in transition. What I learned is that they were all just people with their strengths, challenges and pains. 

The acceptance of all types of folks is the spirit of the week.  On the last day, many of us talked about how it would be hard to go back to "normal" life where talking to a stranger in Trader Joe's would be looked at askance. The ALC riders were a community that rose above any normal categories.

Video of the week

The video crew from the ride put together a summary video. There are a few inside jokes that you may not get, but it certainly gives an idea of the week and the environment.  This long video is also broken into chapters for each day that I put at the end of each day's blog entry. If you watch this video, you don't need to watch each day. But watching day 5 twice is always fun.

Yes, this was the challenging week that I'd done so much to prepare for, and, approaching the age of 70, I was ready for it. I learned some things about nutrition that will have me eating more and being more balanced when I do the ride again. And it's a great feeling to know that I had a heart attack and a double bypass surgery 25 years ago. I still need to prove to myself that I'm doing fine, and this ride certainly did it.

I hope this gives you a feeling for the transformative nature of the ride. It's draining and transformative for everyone on the ride, whether the 1400 riders or 600 roadies.  But, as one roadie told me, riders have it easy as they have 8-10 hours a day on the road by themselves to contemplate and reflect. I had never appreciated the gift that quiet was, and look back on the week with an appreciation for the event and my personal insights and transformations. I've gotten teary a number of times in the past week as I reflect on the experience.

We raised $11.7 million dollars by the start of the ride, and there is probably a bit more to come in. Participation was lower than past years, probably a post-Covid response, so I hope it adds riders again next year. But we also left as a community united for a cause.

As I went for a walk today, listening to podcasts as I do, I heard a quote from Ram Das: "We're all just walking each other home," which is all over the web but I found it here (and is worth reading and watching the video). That quote summarized the whole week. Riders and Roadies didn't think of differences but appreciated, even celebrated, the diversity and supported each other through our journey. 

Saturday, June 10, 2023

ALC Day 7: Ventura to Santa Monica

We made it to day seven.  It was a pretty flat ride down to Santa Monica along the Malibu coast. Even though it'd seem like an environment where you could enjoy the view, it was 29 miles of four lanes of traffic, including trucks (2 lanes each way) with cars and trucks parked along the side. Not incredibly dangerous, but always requiring vigilance. My stories today are somewhat more sparse than other days.

We started in the bike corral that morning.  Each row of bikes was named after a gay star, so I was parked in Neil Patrick Harris.

As we meandered through the lot on our way out, we went past the Brandi Carlile row and two guys in front of me said "I didn't know she was gay." I told them that she was and related the story of her being rejected for baptism as a teenager because of her sexuality. I didn't know this story before the assistant rector at our church, Maggie, told the story in one of her sermons.  Their response was an honest "that really sucks." I'm proud of the fact that my church, the clergy, and the people in it teach and practice acceptance.
One of the larger climbs of the day, maybe 400 feet of easy grade, was as we came in Malibu at the top of the hill. People from the LA LGBT community have been staffing this for years, handing out chocolate (I gave in to a Reese's Peanut Butter cup and a small bag of chocolate M&Ms) and they made this part of the thankless road seem welcoming.

We got to the finish line and finished as a team, with Peter and me at the front, Joe and Evan behind. Hopefully the photographers caught it and I will add it later. Here are the pictures to the entrance to the fair and our team picture as we opened our champagne bottle and share a celebratory toast.

I did get my picture with the retired LA schoolteacher who was in costume all along the route cheering us on. Some of his costumes were a Viagra pill, a condom, a bottle of preps, and more. This is the Viagra hat that he wore as he waited for his husband to ride in.

As I went through the fair at the end, with group photos and celebration (our own little pride celebration), I did pick up the heart and the cloth flower lei. This certainly made me stand out in the terminal at LAX, and I ended up talking to numerous folks taking planes back home. It was a great way to end the ride.


Friday, June 09, 2023

ALC Day 6: Lompoc to Ventura

This day was just a bit more of a long riding day than others on the ride.  I was glad to be on my bike again after yesterday's wheel issue. I also learned a few nutrition items as I didn't eat enough food on day 5 after my ride was interrupted; I kept getting close to bonking all day no matter what I ate. But, even with those challenges, I rode well all day and finished strong. Here are a few things of the day.

Virgil, LD and me at the truck in the morning. They had fun in pirate garb.

The ride into Santa Barbara was great. But just a few miles down the road, the Santa Barbara LGBTQ community has been throwing this ice cream stop (Paradise Pit Stop) for years.  A choice of eight different ice creams, toppings, and coffee.

A bit down the road was a water stop. Here are my pics with a mermaid and a traffic director as a triggerfish. Creativity can be flashy or subtle, and I took on an appreciation for both. I will say that while I am proud of the 40 pounds I lost, today's pictures make it clear that I have at least another 20 to go.

People have asked me what roads we ride on.  Much of day 2-5 were on secondary or country roads. But day 6 started on route 1 and then merged with 101 which we followed to Ventura.  Day 7 got a bit better with route 1 instead of 101. So it wasn't a "stop for pictures" day.  Some exceptions were that there was a wonderful two lane bike trail next to 101 coming into Ventura. 

The evening ended with a candlelight vigil on the beach by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, whose origin stories include one of the first AIDS candlelight vigils. They have been a presence at each ride. You can see five sisters in the middle of the circle as we did a silent remembrance. I also took a few pictures as it became darker, and people took their candles to the sea.

And here's the official video of the day, showing a few more rest stops

3: Top Gun at Santa Barbara and the 

4: Jurassic Party (4: one big dance party)

Thursday, June 08, 2023

ALC Day 5: Santa Maria to Lompoc; Red Dress Day and a broken wheel

Red Dress Day! Day 5 was the day that I had spent the most time preparing for. And not for the 43 miles, but the clothes.

This was a reaction to my 2019, when I did not even know that red dress day existed.  I was surprised by the nail salon with people doing their nails in red or rainbow colors and then outrageous outfits the next day.  There is a presentation in camp after dinner each evening, and my picture was up in front of thousands of people as the person who did not get the memo.   Here's the red dress picture from four years ago.  I vowed that I would do a much better job this year.

Here's our team picture from this year.  A very different view. Joe was willing to do a dress, while Peter and Evan only went as far as a red tutu; Peter did go a step further, painted his nails red, and then spent longer than he would have thought reasonable waiting for them to dry.

My criteria for my dress and ensemble was:
  • It had to be red (obviously)
  • It had to be tasteful 
  • It had to twirl.  I got this from Claire, my daughter, who wanted dresses sho she could twirl.  If I was going to do it, I was going all the way on that
  • I wanted to be dressed in an elegant set, but tastefully outrageous.  Leopard socks with red roses fit the bill. The arm warmers were a later addition, brought on by weather.
  • My beard was going to be red
I met all those criteria in a $50 amazon dress in a 5XL size.  I had expected that I'd have to take it in at the bust, but nothing was required. Our speculation was that the audience for this dress was more likely men than women and was cut appropriately.

Back to the day.  The camp was a sea of red, with even the truck crews in red, or a bit less.

We left the Santa Maria campground together and went on some very rough roads. At mile 8.5, I hit a pothole and heard a sharp metallic sound.  As we pulled into the rest stop, I realized that my wheel was rubbing against the frame... badly out of true.  It took the bike tech a few minutes to figure out that it was not a spoke, but that the wheel itself was cracked.  Their advice was "do not ride on it...  if it breaks to the next level while you're on a downhill, you will wipe out. You're going to have to sag to the end, buy a new wheel and you'll be back on tomorrow."  See my nemesis below. So yes, I did sag 33 miles, but I was ready to do the full 43 in my dress that day.   I got a life to lunch, where I could buy a new wheel set and see the other red clothes

As I was working with the bike techs on diagnosis, I realized that I did not have a picture with Nikki, my cleat mechanic from yesterday.  We rectified that.

While waiting, I did get pictures of a few other people, including folks who lived within a few miles of me in Berkeley, the Pumadres club who had some of the coolest bike kit during the week; one part of that was their motto on all their gear "badassbikeb!tches."

And one of me in a twirl.

Lunch was what I was working towards, to see people coming in and their creativity. Here are a few of the pictures I captured.

Bertrand was a photographer who offered to take group portraits of incoming riders.


One of the ride staff as a Wakandan royal guard.

Doctor Strange was here as well. He was a real doctor and the medical director of the ride, so was in costume all week.  I told him that I was the Silver Surfer the day before and we had a long discussion of the Marvel Universe.

The sea of red at lunch, and this was still early.

Peter took a few photos as well, and you can also see many more, including team photos, in the video.  You'll see Mr. Blow Pop on day 7 with me.

I did buy new wheels from the shop on the road.  Here's my sales guy and box of Shimano wheels. Once I got these, I caught an Uber to the end of the ride where my bike and mechanics were. They were wonderful and my bike was ready to go by 5:00.

I did get a few more pics of my soulmate's dress (he worked at rest stop 3 and can be seen on the videos a few times).

As well as what I considered the most tasteful dress. They made a fabric of the AIDS ribbon and then made custom dresses for the whole team. It was great that one of the team members was a fashion designer.

One last note.  Peter joined me as I went to pick up my bike.  His rear tire lost a 3/8 inch circle of tread and was an accident waiting to happen.  I struck up a conversation with a guy who was waiting for his bike, talking about tattoos.  Rather than doing things that looked tribal or ferocious, he did items from nature that gave him delight. One that impressed me, especially as my team name at work is "Immortal Jellyfish" was a jellyfish tattoo based on drawings of a German naturalist, Ernst Haeckels.

I was dissatisfied that I didn't ride the miles and have the fun, but it was not my fault. I ended the day feeling satisfied that I did all that I could have done, and that I had worked to make sure that I was riding the next day. The lunch area was the place to be, and I had experienced a bit of it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

ALC Day 4: Paso Robles to Santa Maria (and we're half way there)

Day 4 was another long day.  I did finish this in 2019, but was one of the last people in.  I had missed the cinnanomn roll stop, as they had closed, so it had been a lonely day.

This year was much better.  The first rest stop was a wonderful opportunity for team pictures, so I snuck in as an unofficial photographer. I don't know the name of the team in the first photo (I got the back of their jersey a few days later, with references to buttered muffins that I need to understand better).

This second picture was the Funky Monkey team, which was one of the largest teams. It's impressive to see such a larger number of matching kits.  

Halfway is a big celebration. Do watch the video for a few surprises.  I was there as a guy from Boys on Bikes stripped his jersey and shorts off for the picture (and a strategically placed sign) to the cheers of the group. I knew that this was going to be a major picture day, so I wore my Silver Surfer jersey, something from Peal Izumi in 1996 before Marvel started doing major licensing within Disney.

Here's me halfway.  I didn't feel the need to hold it over my head or climb out on a rock.

I also did make sure to take photos of the roadies at lunch and rest stops 3 and 4. In case you need an explanation, lunch was "I'm a lumberjack and I'm ok" by Monty Python, rest stop 3 was the Can Can and 4 was Moulin Rouge. Everyone working at 4 was in matching costume, so I did a picture with the food roadies rather than stage.  The cheap perfume on these two ladies stayed with me for the next 10 miles.

It was another good day to ride. I finished strong, and have great memories of two riders in the bike parking of rest stop 4 singing along with the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, as they knew all the words. Spontaneous moments like this are part of what makes the ride that are not captured in the video, but just part of my memories.