AIDS/Lifecycle 2013: A life changing experience

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AIDS/Lifecycle is an event I have always wanted to do. I had heard such great things about it from those that did it in the past, so I had high expectations. After completing the ride, my expectations were exceeded beyond my wildest imagination. Words can not really describe what this ride was like, but I will attempt to do so in this blog post. If you like riding bikes and helping people, you MUST do this ride once in your life. 

When I left San Francisco that misty morning of June 2, I became part of a community of fellow cyclists and roadies(the 500 volunteers who travel with us to support the riders) all coming together to help those affected by HIV/AIDS and to spread a positive message to combat the stigma surrounding the disease. 2700 Men, women, gay, straight, HIV positive, HIV negative, black, white, latino, asian, young and old (the oldest rider was 82). In this community everyone watches out for each other. Everyone is polite, courteous and selfless. In a world full of rude, selfish assholes it was refreshing to spend a week where I did not have to experience that behavior at all. The only downside to this is that if you stop by the side of the road for any reason, you will have a zillion other riders asking you if you are alright as they pass by ;) .

I traveled the back roads of California, through places that you’d never see if you were racing up the 101 or 5 on your way to San Francisco. Past farm fields and the migrant workers who toil away harvesting the crops. Up and down the coastal mountains with stunning vistas. Through small towns like Bradley where 2300 bike riders coming through is the biggest event of the year (more on Bradley later).

The #1 tenet of ALC is safety and they do a great job of it. Getting 2200 riders, many of whom are not very experienced, safely from SF to LA with all of the mountain roads and highways is no small task. During ALC, all riders must stop and put a foot down at every stop sign and red light, call out “on your left” when passing, call out “slowing,” “stopping,” etc. It was very tedious. I must have unclipped 500 times and called out “on your left” 1500 times. This year there were only 2 riders taken to the hospital for minor injuries.

Another thing I was amazed by was the cleanliness. During the ride, you use porta potties which obviously do not have running water. ALC has devised this 2-step sanitization process and strict rules about food handling. You must remove your cycling gloves before handling any food or going to the restroom and must sanitize after using the porta potty or before eating. If you break one of these rules, your fellow riders will definitely call you out on it. Also it is amazing how clean the porta potties are. Not one rider got any kind of GI infection. Considering the lack of running water and the close quarters, that is quite an accomplishment!

The safety and cleanliness is really enforced through positive peer pressure and is a testament to how well it can work to benefit the entire community.

Before I give you some of the highlights of the ride, I need to address the whole gay thing. It is a fact that gay males make up a very large portion of the ALC community. Much of the entertainment during the ride involves guys dressed in drag. I heard there were some people wondering if I was gay because I was doing this ride. Well, I’m not, but having grown up on the border of West Hollywood, I have been around the gay community all my life and have always been a staunch supporter of gay rights. I am not wigged out by seeing two men hiding hands, kissing, etc. If you are, might I suggest you open your mind a bit more, you will get a lot more enjoyment in life. I hate making generalizations but the GLBT community really knows how to have fun and party!

So, let me give a few highlights from each day. You can click on each photo to zoom in.

 

 

Day 0: Fly LAX to SFO

338 Miles 35,000 ft of climbing 

Neat sticker

I flew in to SFO around 5 and headed directly to the Raddison hotel. I had dinner in the hotel bar and the service was super slow since the hotel was much busier than usual for a Saturday night. I chatted with a few folks and one lady gave me this very cool (and appropriate) sticker. I choked down a very nasty turkey burger and washed it down with a couple glasses of wine. I tried to get to sleep early since I had a 3am wake up call.

 

 

Day 1: SF to Santa Cruz  

85 Miles, 5381 ft. of climbing

Cow Palace at 4:30am

Since I got to SF late on Saturday, I missed orientation day and had to get over to the Cow Palace by 4:30 to register and pick up my bike, which had been sent ahead to SF the day before. This was no problem as I was wide awake at 2:30 due to the fact that I was so excited. I cabbed it over to the Cow Palace and entered this massive room with thousands of bikes and the next task at hand was to find my bike:

Dude, where's my bike?

There it is!

Opening Ceremonies

I managed to find it and attached my pump, seat bag, etc and headed to the opening ceremonies. After the opening ceremonies, I was handed my first route sheet and we headed outside for the ride out. After a bit of a wait, we headed out into a misty SF morning towards Santa Cruz.

 

Route Sheet

Waiting to ride out

Riding in the fog

Supporters at the top of Skyline

The fog was so thick that it saturated the trees and it would literally rain on you as you passed under them.

We climbed up Skyline and were greeted at the top by a huge group of supporters at the top of the hill.

One thing about this ride is how so many people come out to cheer you by the side of the road. Sometimes it is a huge group like this but most often it is a couple people sitting on the back of their cars with a sign and cowbells.

We descended in to Half Moon Bay and I was greeted with our first rest stop. There are rest stops every 15-20 miles or so and each one has a theme.

Rest stop 2 : M*A*S*H theme

Rest stop 3: "Old MacDonald" theme

The people that run these rest stops are very creative and it would take too long to describe each one, so I will point out a couple of interesting ones. These rest stops are very well stocked with all kinds of snacks including the infamous “crack” bars (they are very addicting). These are a PB&J sandwich between 2 graham crackers insead of slices of bread. They are very yummy and for some reason, they are impossible to buy in stores. I tried to be a good boy and only had 1 crack bar per day and mostly snacked on bananas. Speaking of which one of my fellow riders was spreading peanut butter on a banana and I decided to try it myself. Wow. Pure heavenly yumminess!

 

It is entirely possible to gain weight on this ride

"Crack" bars

One other thing to note about the rest stops is they often decorate the door of the porta potties with interesting signs. Hare are some from rest stop 3 with its ”Old MacDonald” theme:

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

After the rest stop, I continued down the coast. There were some beautiful sights along the way. As I stopped to take a picture in front of Pigeon Point Lighthouse, I ran in to Susan Hollander from Swami’s. She is a fellow BWR wanker, so after she snapped the photo of me, We chatted for a while as we rode along. Turns out she does this ride every year. We both joked that even though the ALC is 545 miles and the BWR is 130, the BWR is still much harder.

I rolled in to camp in Santa Cruz and got an idea of what a massive logistical operation these camps are. They have to feed and move luggage for almost 3000 people. They also provide hot showers by way of these really neat mobile shower trucks:

Luggage. Lots of it.

Mobile Shower Truck

Camp in Santa Cruz

If you click on the photo to the right, you will see all the tents behind the bikes. There are over 1200 of them. I was not in one of them because I decided to stay in hotels along the way, known as “princessing” in ALC parlance. I did not need a hotel in Santa Cruz since I have a friend there who offered to let me stay at his place.

 

 

Day 2: Santa Cruz to King City

109 Miles, 3300 ft. of climbing

Looks worse than it is

After winding our way through Santa Cruz, I hit a really nasty bump and crashed. I was able to throw out my elbow to protect my head and since I was wearing my arm and leg warmers, I avoided a lot of road rash. There was a fellow rider who happened to be a doctor already on the scene treating a lady who crashed on the same bump minutes earlier. He checked me out and I was fine, but I managed to rip my shorts in the crash. I would be riding with the cycling equivalent of assless chaps for 100 miles.

After riding to the next rest stop to get cleaned up and bandaged, I headed inland and passed by several strawberry fields where migrant workers were hard at work harvesting. I then headed to the lunch stop in Salinas. As I rode through Salinas, it felt like I went back in time. The town has an old time feel to it.

The biggest ALC cheerleaderHeading out of Salinas, I picked up a tail wind and was soaring past artichoke, kale and lettuce fields at 27+ MPH. It was awesome to have such a strong tail wind on such a long ride. As I was rounding a curve, I noticed someone cheering us from the side of the road whom a former participant told me to stop and say hi to. His name is Seth. He is the sweetest guy and he comes out every year to follow the route and cheer us on wearing various outfits. Today, he was wearing his condom outfit. I stopped to chat with him for a bit and went on my way.

A few miles down the road was the Otter Pop Stop. The theme was “Dancing Bears” I will let the photos and video speak for themselves:

Honestly As a straight man, I felt a tiny bit uncomfortable. At the same time, I could not wipe the smile from my face because the scene was just insane and people were having a blast!  The funny part is that this was all taking place in the parking lot of Mission La Soledad. Inside the mission is all serene and solemn and outside, all of this insanity is going on. It is quite the contrast. That’s ALC for you.

I rolled in to camp and stopped by the sports medicine tent just to get looked at in case I messed up anything in the crash. My shoulder was a bit sore, so they taped it up a bit to give it some support. I got a ride to the lovely Motel 6 with some roadies who were also staying there. Note to self: Motel 6 SUCKS. Luckily there are better alternatives and I made a note of them for next year. Here  is a great shot of the camp to give you an idea of the massive amount of tents:

 

Day 3: King City to Paso Robles

66 Miles, 2500 ft. of climbing

"Rush hour"

Postcard Shot

Day 3 begins with a ride down a gravel bike path which tends to get pretty backed up as everyone rides out in the morning. I can deal with this kind of rush hour traffic.

I made my way to rest stop 1 and managed to get a beautiful photo of a barn while I was there. Rest stop 1 is the last stop before the legendary “Quadbuster.” It is a 2.1 mile climb that averages about 7% grade. Most of the riders seemed very worried about it but it really was not a bad climb and everyone managed to get over it, though I did see a couple people walking up. I had no problem with it.

 

The lunch stop on day 3 is in a small town called Bradley. Bradley is a very small town a couple of miles off of the 101. The residents of Bradley welcome ALC with open arms and throw a fund raiser BBQ where the money goes to fund all of their extracurricular activities and field trips. I bought a cheeseburger along with a postcard and button hand made by they students of Bradley elementary School. I wrote a note to my wife and mailed the postcard to her. They managed to raise over $60,o00 which will cover their entire budget for the whole year!

Welcome to Bradley!

A shot of the town.

This button was drawn by a kindergartener

After lunch, I made my way to rest stop 4 which was a “Barbie” theme and it was pretty outrageous. Here are some photos and a video of the show they put on:

After rest stop 4, the head winds were horrendous. As I pulled in to Paso Robles, I saw a truck piled high with bikes, I guess a lot of people couldn’t take it an decided to hop on the bus to camp.

The camp in Paso Robles was at the fairgrounds and they were selling ice cream, so I indulged a bit before heading to my hotel

 

Day 4: Paso Robles to Santa Maria

98 Miles, 4270 ft. of climbing

Halfway to LA!

Morro Bay

 

Day 4 starts with with a 17 mile gradual climb up the “Twin Sisters” Once you get to the top of the 2nd twin sister, you are at the half way point to LA. I crested the hill and stopped for a photo op. After that point, it is an incredible 8 mile descent down to Morro bay where I was greeted by some of the most beautiful coastline California has to offer. I made my way quickly down the coast because I was told a treat awaits in Pismo Beach…

 

 

Cinnamon Rolls!!!

That’s right. Pismo Beach has a bakery well known for their cinnamon rolls. The joint is called Old West Cinnamon Rolls and I have to say, they were absolutely delicious! What a treat. The day ALC passes through Pismo Beach is their busiest day of the year.

With my tummy satisfied, I made my way into Santa Maria where camp was set up in a very lovely park. I grabbed my gear from the gear truck and ride my bike to yet another lovely Motel 6. After a quick shower, I returned my bike to camp, had dinner and walked back to my motel.

 

 

 

Day 5: Santa Maria to Lompoc

43 Miles, 2100 ft. of climbing

While day 4 is the shortest day, it is a very special day known as “Red Dress” day. On this day everyone wears various red costumes and rides to Lompoc. Here are a few photos:

Getting ready

One team all dressed up as Little Orphan Annie

The gear truck guys

The "Annies" getting ready to roll out

I can't imagine what some of the locals thought.

Red Ribbon Hill

"Guitar Hero" Minnie cheering us on

My outfit. This cape was made for me by my cyclist rep, Eric.

One of the photogs got a shot of me zooming down a hill with that cape on. I wish I knew who it was so I could get a copy. It would be cool to see what it looked like with me riding a bike with that cape flapping in the wind.

Many of the guys dress in drag and one of them really had me fooled. He looked like a really hot chick until I saw the hairy legs. Funny how as cyclists, most of the guys (straight or gay) shave their legs and the best looking drag queen didn’t.

The day was a bit cold and a lot of the guys and gals who were wearing skimpy outfits froze their butts off. I cut lunch short and headed to camp to put on my sweats. After changing, I shared a cab to my motel to go shower. I took a nap and then walked back to camp to have dinner. Afterwards, I got a ride back to camp from one of the local residents who was offering free rides into town for the ALC riders.

Day 6: Lompoc to Ventura

88 Miles, 3240 ft. of climbing

Making coffee, en masse.

I rose very early and went downstairs from my motel room at 5:15am. There was already a group waiting for a cab so they offered me a lift. The cab drops you off at the entrance to the camp and it is a LONG walk to the bike parking and food area. I stood in the breakfast line with an older gentleman who was serving as a roadie. He told me about this huge drawing he was doing and how he’d like to include me in it (more on that later). Speaking of food, I walked behind the catering tents and witnessed how they make all the coffee for the riders with huge pots of water heater with propane.

We headed out on a gradual 17 mile climb to the top of Gaviota pass. After reaching the top, there is a steep 5 mile descent down to the sea. I took it easy on the descent because the CHP was not going to open the road past rest stop 2 until 9am to the cyclists so I would just be stuck there waiting anyway.

The CHP was running behind, so we did not get cleared until 9:25 but at least I was in the first group to roll out of rest stop 2. As I was riding, I passed a guy on a fixie and struck up a conversation with him. He was in the full hipster style garb (skinny jeans, etc) and was riding a fixed gear for the entire ride. I asked him about his gear ratio and he told me it was 47-16. Pretty darn impressive.

Paradise Pit

The highlight of day 6 is Paradise Pit. Paradise Pit is an unofficial rest stop that the people of the city of Santa Barbara put on every year. They serve ice cream and all kinds of other treats. They didn’t really have any flavors I liked, but I really enjoyed the fresh fruit cups with this chili lime seasoning you could sprinkle on, yum!

After that, I caught a tailwind and made my way down the 101 towards Ventura. After I just passed a railroad crossing, I heard the gates coming down. Being the train aficionado that I am, I turned back to watch the train go by. It just happened to be the Coast Starlight, which is the train that runs once a day from LA to Seattle. It is a magnificent looking long train with sleeper cars. For some reason, I saw it as a good omen and it brought a tear to my eye. I don’t know why. Maybe I was just tired.

 

After riding 480 miles, I think I earned this!

 

I continued down in to camp, parked my bike, grabbed my gear and headed directly to the Marriott and took a shower. After being in those crappy motels, the Marriott was a treat. The shower had amazing water pressure! I lingered in that shower for a while then I got dressed and headed for In-N-Out across the street. Animal style double double, animal style fries and a large Arnold Palmer. Yeah baby!

I headed back to camp and went over to the medical tent to put my name on the list to see the chiropractor as my back was bothering me a bit. While I was waiting, I saw the gentleman who I had breakfast with working on his drawing. It is a bit hard to explain what he was doing but basically it a drawing of the ALC “universe.” Each person gets added on to it however they choose. Some might be a ship, an island, a building, a planet or even an atom. I asked him to add a little tropical retreat in my name:

Here is the entire drawing (click to zoom in)

Here's my tropical retreat!

 

Evening Program before the vigil

The candles laid out for the vigil

The highlight of day 6 is the candlelight vigil on the beach. Imagine 3000 people all sitting in silence holding candles. All you can hear is the sound of the waves rolling in to shore. It was quite surreal. Below is a great photo someone got of the vigil. You really need to be there to experience it!

 

Day 7: Ventura to LA 

62 Miles, 1782 ft. of climbing

Day 7 is an easy ride and my wife would not be able to pick me up until 2:30pm, so I woke up late, slowly made my way to camp and lingered a bit over breakfast. As I was walking to camp, I saw this sign the guy who does the morning yoga classes made:

Namaste bitches!

When I got to my bike, there was a small plastic egg with a note of encouragement and a piece of candy. This was left by Chicken Lady who is an ALC institution. She lives in Redondo and does the ride every year on an old hybrid bike. On the evening of day 6, she leave an egg on every rider’s saddle (all 2200 of them). Here’s a photo of Chicken Lady and I:

After leaving Ventura, we pass by Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station where the ambulance driver is stopped in front of the display of fighter jets blasting songs from the “Top Gun” soundtrack from his PA speaker.

Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station

After that is it a smooth shot down the coast to Santa Monica. I slowed way down to 10 MPH both as a way to recover from all the miles I had ridden this week and also to kill time while I wait to reunite with my family at the VA center in West LA. Once I got the call that my wife and daughter were there, I rode in and gave them the biggest hug I have ever given. Sydney missed her daddy so much and was so excited to see me! My friend Doug (the person who did ALC in 2012 and got me to do ALC this year) also drove all the way up from the OC to come see me ride in.

Right after I rode in, the caboose and moto crew rode in. The moto crew is a group fo 32 volunteers who ride their motorcycles along with the ride and help with traffic, etc.

 

I stopped for a quick photo op and then we got in to the car to go home!

I did it!!!

Since ALC was getting new tents for next year, they were selling what they could for $10 and donating the rest to to Boys and Girls club. I decided to pick one up as a souvenir. Somebody was really excited to have a “camp out” in the back yard!

 

All in all, this was an absolutely amazing experience. It was really awesome spending the week riding bikes, talking to people and enjoying the sights. The only drawback was that I missed my family terribly. I am signed up for next year and I am thrilled that Doug decided to sign up too so I will have a riding buddy. I only have to wait 51 more weeks!

The interesting part is that I was not really that tired or sore after the ride. Maybe it was I rode day 7 at a recovery pace and kept my HR below 110 the whole time.

Thank you to my generous donors who helped me raise a whopping $11,300. A HUGE thank you to my wife Allison who held down the fort with our daughter who was very cranky because she missed her daddy! You all are AWESOME!!!

 

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3 Responses to “AIDS/Lifecycle 2013: A life changing experience”

  1. Doug says:

    Great writeup! ALC is an experience impossible to describe, but this comes damn close.

  2. Drdany says:

    Great job for a great cause David…Sara and I are very proud YOU!

  3. Kathy Issa says:

    Hi David,
    Finally took the time to read and enjoy this article of your ride – loved it!! Your photos and videos are great and your writing is so descriptive of your whole experience. Such a great cause you are supporting! Hope to hear details in person some time – sounds fantastic.

Leave a Reply to Drdany

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