On Your Left: My Life on The AIDS/LifeCycle Ride from SF to LA
I have just returned from an epic journey on my bike, 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angles with the AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC). I have wanted to do this ride for more than 15 years but while my kids where young and at home, it was not really feasible. I have many reasons for doing this ride: ALC does so much for so many, I needed to get fit and, at least 10% of my clients are gay men and I have had the privilege of helping several lesbian couples as well.
You may wonder why I have called this blog ‘On Your Left’, it is because when a cyclist passes another cyclist they call out in a load voice “On your left” or “Passing on your left.” I heard that a lot over the day for 7 days I spent on my bike with 2,300 riders. The good news for me is that many of those people passing me on the downhill I was able to pass on the uphill. I’m the proverbial tortoise from Aesop’s fable. I just keep peddling steadily and reach the top then make a measured and controlled descent down the other side.
Of course, “On Your Left” can have other meanings as well. The ALC Ride is an amazing journey with a wide variety of individuals. The ALC is often referred to as one big love bubble and I’d have to say it lived up to that name, as it is an extremely supportive environment. The majority of the riders are either gay or lesbian, one of the few events when a straight woman like myself is in the minority. I met so many wonderful people along the way. Their amazing hearts have everything to do with what makes this event so very special and life changing for so many.
During my ride I had 6 flat tires; not spread out over the week but all in the beginning. I don’t really want to focus on my flat tires as much as the wonderful people who I met because of my flat tires. First there was Dennis, originally from the UK now living in California and working as a nurse in Orange County. He was the first to help me with the first flat without me even asking. He just jumped off and helped. He has done the ride 5 times and was one of my heroes that day. Next was Sam, wearing an “I’m Riding With Jesus” shirt who stopped to help me with my second flat that day just 60 minutes after the first flat. We talked and agreed that as Christians we are called to love and support everyone.
On day three as I was sagged (taken by van to the next rest stop) with my 6th flat. I had a great conversation with the driver about the variety of family formation among their friends. The driver’s partner had been asked to be the donor for a lesbian couple with whom they are close friends. He told me about all of the legal paperwork required so that the lesbian couple would be the sole parents as all parties wished. I learned that after the birth the lesbian couple would have to sue the sperm donor to make sure that his parental rights would be severed. It all sounds complicated, especially among friends but it’s necessary to make things clear and simple in the future. No one ever thinks that among friends parental rights issues will get sticky but they can, even with the best intentions if lines are not made clear and legal from the start.
Day three was also the day that I met my own personal angel on my left. I was moving slowly up “quad buster”, a long climb of more than a mile with the last ¼ mile even steeper. I, like many had pulled to the side just before the last ¼ mile to catch my breath (not a good idea in hind sight) and had started to plod the rest of the way up. I was feeling defeated when, out of no where, came Andrew with little orange wings on his helmet. He came along side me and coxed me up the rest of the hill. Once I was up he disappeared and I was left wondering, “Who was that winged stranger?” I saw him a couple more times in passing but I still didn’t know anything more than his first name. On the last morning of the ride I stumbled sleepily into the breakfast tent and sat across from a man and started to talk about the ride and my experience on my first ALC ride. I told him I was feeling good and had finally conquered the hills except for “quad buster.” He told me he had climbed quad buster two and a half times. I told him my story about the guy named Andrew who helped me up the hill and he said, “Did he have orange wings on his helmet?” I said “Yes, he did”, and he replied, “That was me!” I was so thrilled to meet my angel face to face. It was Andrew and others like Andrew who made this ride an amazing journey for me.
Toward the end of day four I was at my wits end. The distance between rest stop three and rest stop 4 seemed to be a world away rather than just 18 miles. I had lost my odometer and had to guess at how much further I might need to travel to reach the next rest stop. When I asked one of the Moto Safety rider ( the ALC volunteers who help direct us on the ride) how far to the rest stop 4 and was told “6 miles,” a distance that I would normally find to be nothing, I thought I might cry. My neck, shoulders and arms were all aching. My legs were like rubber. I just needed a break. By the time I rolled into rest stop 4, I threw my arms around my tent mate and said “I’m just so tired!” This rest stop had a carnival theme (each rest stop each day had every changing themes) and I got some popcorn, ice for my back, and Gatorade and was good to go the last few miles to camp.
Thank heaven for day five! Day five is dress-in-red day so that we can create a red ribbon down the highways of California as a symbol of our commitment to end AIDS in our lifetime. Day five has been reinterpreted “Red Dress Day” and it is worth waiting for. It is a shorter day of riding, just 42 miles, though not necessarily all easy miles since much of it is uphill. It’s not the short day that makes this the best day on the ride, it is because this is the day that everyone gets to cut loose, dress up, and have a blast. We had the “Annie’s” a large team who wore sparkly red dresses with little peter pan colors, Mary Jane style shoe covers with lace ankle socks looking like a sea of Little Orphan Annie’s. Many diverse and fabulous drag queens looked far more beautiful than most women might ever hope to look and a bevy of tutu clad riders including myself. There were so many fun and wonderful red costumes.
I think my favorite character of all had to be the “Chicken Lady” who brightened everyone’s day every day. She wore a rainbow skirt, a chicken on her helmet, and dropped off eggs for us to find with special messages in them. On the last day of the ride we all came out to our bikes to find an egg on our bike seats. Inside of the egg was a lifesaver candy with a red ribbon and note that said “You are a true Lifesaver!!” along with another note with a picture of our beloved Chicken Lady which read:
What did we ride for?
If it was not to make life less difficult for the ones we love, then we rode in memory of the ones we lost.
Chicken Lady, ALC 12
The Chicken Lady along with and many other’s rides and roadies helped make the ride less difficult for all of us so that we can commit to keep doing this ride until we can put an end to AIDS. I have signed up to do it again next year and signed up my husband as well! I’ve formed a Donor Concierge Team and my tent-mate Tina, a pathologist from the UK, also signed again will be coming back from London to ride again on our team along with a few of my friends and staff. Perhaps you might want to join us too. I found that focusing on raising funds and training for the AIDS ride took my focus off of my own worries and turned my focus outward. Helping others is a great distraction and for a wonderful cause.