The AIDS LifeCycle Experience: Day 6

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 6- Lompoc to Ventura

If you’re keeping track, we’ve already ridden nearly 400 miles. Yesterday’s short but hilly route provided a break of sorts, which we took full advantage of by going into the city and eating dinner together as a team. This was followed by some quality hot tub time with other cyclists who were staying at the same hotel as us. And by quality, I mean I brought out my laptop so we could watch Mean Girls while we soaked our aching muscles.

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Nick & Paul made a friend!

Today we returned to a long day in the saddle in order to cover the 84 miles to Ventura. We are almost home.

The day started with a long, but fairly easygoing (at this point, anyway) climb up the hills just south of Lompoc and our first rest stop was right before we shot down through the Gaviota Pass to the coast where we rode single file on the shoulder 101 freeway. It’s a pretty dangerous stretch of road for a cyclist on a regular day, given the heavy vehicle traffic. But with 2300 of us navigating the route, the California Highway Patrol stepped in to assist by regulating the flow of cyclists on the road. This caused a bit of a traffic jam at the exit of rest stop 1:

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At rest stop 2 about 6 miles on the other side of the pass,  everyone took photos of the pod of dolphins frolicking in the surf just below us. Well, everyone except me. I knew from previous experience that the dolphins in the photos come out looking like indistinct blobs of gray. It’s better just to take in the sight with your eyes and remember the moment. Or, you can also just take in the sight of the roadies…

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After charging up on Luna Bars we rolled along the 101 towards Goleta for lunch, where we were treated to the sight of planes approaching Santa Barbara airport right over our heads. We also took in the sights of today’s fashion theme, which was orange (for safety awareness).

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Slight winds from the Northwest did a decent job of nudging us in the right direction towards Ventura after lunch, and we probably would have reached camp in record time were it not for the fact that we hit every red light possible riding out of Goleta. By the time we reached Rest Stop 3 and Paradise Pit, the roadies were already making early preparations to close up shop. Of course I wast going to let that stop me from seizing an available photo opportunity.

My mom used to call me bunny.

My mom used to call me bunny.

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We lost Micah. Again. But we found ice cream.

We wasted no time in shoveling scoops of delicious McConnell’s ice cream in our faces at Paradise Pit, an unofficial rest stop in Santa Barbara organized by former rider Rod Lathim, before mounting our trusty steeds once more. We shot right past Rest Stop 4’s beachside dance party (sorry boys!) and reached camp just after 6 p.m.

Tonight at dinner, they had chocolate cheesecake! The confectionary celebration was hampered, though, by somber news about a longtime rider & training ride leader from Northern California who went into cardiac arrest as she was approaching camp in Santa Maria two nights ago. Her prognosis was grim, and it was with heavy hearts that we made our way to the candlelight vigil on San Buneaventura beach.

Tonight, I lit my candle for my mother, who taught me about AIDS when I was very young and explained why people living with the disease needed our love, compassion and acceptance. The wind kept blowing out our candles and we kept relighting each others’ with our own until they finally continued to burn. As I stood there, wondering how I’d make my way past the throng heading back to camp in order to put the candle out in the waves crashing on the shore, my teammate Jason said to just “let the wind take it.” Before I could even raise my candle up to do so, a sound like someone’s breath blowing out the candles on their birthday cake filled my ears and the light went out.

I’ve been fortunate to grow up not really knowing anyone personally who lost their life to AIDS, and I always say how one of the reasons I do this ride is because I don’t know which of my friends have HIV. Their “status” matters as much to me as their eye color in the sense that it doesn’t define to me who they are. That’s what character’s for, not T-Cell counts.

What does matter is that I am able to find support from others in order to climb on this bike and struggle for seven days and 545 miles. Some people do this ride for people they loved and lost, others because they themselves are living with HIV and want to help people like them. Me, I do it because I may not know that life but a very smart woman told me we can’t let those who do live it alone. Also, I have a really difficult time saying no when somebody asks me for help. It’s just my nature to say “what can I do?”

This. I can do this, with you. And it makes a difference.

Only 60 miles till we reach home, but I can’t deny that this roving pack of spandex feels a lot like home, too.

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