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 my 2015 ride (and the thousands of people living with HIV that depend on the Los Angeles LGBT Center for health care), click here. And many thanks in advance if you do.
Day 5 is such a love-hate day. Something amazing happens in the wee hours of the morning at Pritzker Park, as 2300 (well, 2300 minus the ones staying at nearby hotels) cyclists emerge from their tents in a display of every shade of red imaginable. It’s hard to imagine any day on the ride more fun than Dress Red Day. The creativity and spirit of the people on this journey shines so bright for 42 miles as we climb through the hills of Vandenberg Air Force Base to reach Lompoc (which is pronounced lahm-poke, for any of you non-natives out there).
In case you’re wondering, the hate part is those hills that actually inspired the whole dress red thing in the first place. There’s a particular climb just after Rest Stop 2 that I colloquially refer to as “The Wicked Stepsister of the Evil Twins” because it has a few hidden switchbacks that dupe you into thinking you’ve reached the top, except you haven’t. If that isn’t evil, I don’t know what is. But the challenge of climbing that hill is something that can really only be appreciated with an aerial view. Because from above, we cyclists look like a red ribbon flowing across the hillside. That’s what they tell us, anyways. From our point of view, it’s a long line of skirts and feathers leading us up another freakin’ climb. But even that is an amazing sight.
And so, all is forgiven when you spend the day enjoying the fashion, the spectacle and the scandal of Red Dress Day. People really let their hair down. Well actually they put it up. With zip ties. On top of their bike helmets. It’s just an incredible sight to behold. One fellow who has been doing the ride for over a decade has a new pair of custom high heels made each year with cleats built into them. The Met gala has nothing on this runway show.
You can see so much more of what happened today (as well as during the entire ride) by checking out the photos here
Something happened to me today that felt like it had to be more than coincidence. To explain, I need to provide a little backstory. When I was young, my parents took us to a eucalyptus glen just North of Lompoc so we could see the Monarch butterflies during their mating season. Thinking about it now, it’s hard to fully articulate how I felt being surrounded by thousands upon thousands of those butterflies. All I can say is that it’s a vision forever burned into my mind because of the immense sensation of wonder and beauty that overcame me at the time. I can’t recall if I ever told my parents how powerful that moment I shared with nature was.
Today, I kid you not, a Monarch butterfly followed me along some of the toughest parts of our trek to Lompoc. I didn’t believe it was happening at first, but the darn thing flew across my path two different times just to make its point. Perhaps it’s my overdeveloped sense of sentimentality but I imagined my mom was there by my side, helping to gently push me up those hills and bring me closer to home. The wings of a butterfly might seem slight, but the air they push aside makes waves that echo on and on. And each and every one of the riders on this journey has the same effect on the fight to end HIV once and for all, no matter how much money we raise or how many miles we log on our bikes.
Tomorrow is a long day filled with rolling hills that will lead us to the sands of San Buenaventura beach. And though on Saturday I will gleefully drift to sleep in my own bed with my pets piled into the bed in a fashion sure to induce some variety of leg cramps by morning, there’s no place I’d rather be tonight than right here. My eyes are filled with dust. My body is filled with… lactic acid. Though I may be tired, my heart is overflowing.