The AIDS LifeCycle Experience: Day 1

This post is adapted from a series of emails I sent to the people who donated to support my participation in AIDS/LifeCycle 2014. If you’d like to support me in 2015, click here.

I’d like to take you on a journey with me, down a road I’ve traveled twice before during the first week of June. For seven days (and 545 miles), I join several thousand cyclists and supporters in raising money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. It is both the most exhausting and the most amazing thing I have ever been a part of. And this year it took on special meaning for me as I rode in honor of my mother, who passed away last September.

AIDS/LifeCycle has been around for over 20 years (originally it was called the California AIDS Ride) and over that time cyclists have ridden over 20 million miles on their bikes in order to raise money and awareness. When I first began riding in 2012, my friends and I formed a team called The Pork Pedalers. All of us were first-time riders then. Heck, many had not ridden a bike since junior high. But this cause struck a chord with us all. Our motto is simple: United by bacon to end AIDS.

That first year, we all camped in the tent city that moved along with us down the state towards Los Angeles. Camping isn’t really the right term though, since riders are fully supported with medical teams, chiropractic services, fresh hot meals, and even hot showers each evening. Really the only bits that qualify as camping are sleeping in a tent and having to use a port-a-potty.

I was in By Scouts for pretty much my entire childhood, so I was no stranger to camping. But I won’t lie, adding seven full days of bike riding into the equation really changes how one feels about sleeping in a tent. My second year on the ride, I stayed in hotels. The contrast in how much more rested I felt each morning was shocking. It was still a thoroughly exhausting week, but I felt like I could handle it better. Plus, this way I was able to throw a pool party for the team mid-week.

This year Chris came along for the first time as part of the AIDS/LifeCycle media team. Since he was driving our car along the route, I didn’t get to fly up to SF with my teammates like I had in years past. I have to admit, I really missed that experience. The first time we flew up together was pretty awesome. The purser on our flight gave us a shout-out on the P.A. and gave us all a free cocktail to boost our courage. It was the best send-off I could have asked for.

Marisa, a purser with Virgin America, poses with some of our team members

Marisa, a purser with Virgin America, poses with some piggies

Day 1: San Francisco to Santa Cruz

We stayed at the Hyatt Union Square thinking that we could get more sleep before our ungodly 4:15 a.m. wake-up call for the start of AIDS/LifeCycle. Day Zero (orientation day) for the previous two years had been spent at a friend’s house with several other riders, which always resulted in late night chatter and giggling and a mere four hours of slumber at best. This time, I was bound to change that.

The universe has a sense of humor, though.

We were blessed with a neighboring hotel guest who had absolutely no concept of what inside voice meant (even after 10 p.m.) and this was coupled with an unfortunate incident with the bathroom sink that had Chris mopping the floor until almost 11pm. So yet again, I awoke to the start of this long and grueling journey sleep-deprived and feeling totally unprepared for the day. Well, I had prepared in one way. I took a jersey that fellow cyclist & Pork Pedaler Bryan Prado gave me and made it a little bit more special:

This one's for you, mom.

This one’s for you, mom.

We did our morning stretches to music far too upbeat for 5:45 a.m. and then the opening ceremonies began. It was then that we found out this year’s 2300 riders raised $15,000,159 as of that morning, and we couldn’t have done it without you. Seriously. If I hadn’t ridden this year, the total would have been just about $4000 shy of 15 million.
The six Pork Pedalers riding this year are Ernesto, Jorge, James, myself, Nick and this year’s newbie, Micah. Not pictured is Paul, who blew out his knee over the prior weekend and had to withdraw from the ride at the last minute. However, he still rode with us because Chris seized on the opportunity to have himself a free photo assistant for the trip.
AIDS Lifecycle 2014 - 35
Two other non-riding teammates followed us to Santa Cruz today and really lifted our spirits by stopping at points along the route and cheering us and all the other AIDS/LifeCycle riders on. We saw countless other friends and family members do this for other riders as well. So this time as we climbed up “drag queen hill” and slogged along the unending series of rolling hills along the Pacific Coastline from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz, I found a deeper understanding of how important and powerful it is to have the support of people who appreciate what this ride accomplishes. It pushes us forward. It fuels our spirits. It makes it so much easier for us to ride those last remaining miles to camp each day.
AIDS Lifecycle 2014 - 34
Today I saw drag queens, giant dogs, cheerleaders, Oktoberfesters, lunch ladies, roller derby girls, and countless everyday folk supporting us as we rode the 82 miles to Santa Cruz. I burned around 4200 calories. I resisted the urge to gorge myself on pop tarts. I reminded my sit bones what “pain and suffering” really feels like. And I made plenty of silly faces along the way.
 AIDS Lifecycle 2014 - 29
 But I think one of the most touching moments was when one of the lunch ladies came up to me and handed me this after seeing the back of my jersey:
AIDS Lifecycle 2014 - 27
It was all I could do not to cry as I walked back to my bike, and it’s also one example of why this is such a powerful experience my words will never do justice to explain. All I can do is remember that I belong here.
Next stop, King City.

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