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. 


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