4:30 a.m....BZZZZZTTT!!! Geez...what was THAT?? The alarm? Impossible...still dark. Fuzzy headed...something's different...YIKES! It's day one of the ALC ride!! What's first?? Oh yeah..bike shorts...bag balm (if you don't know, don't ask)...shoes...no, socks then shoes. Fifteen minutes and out the door, heading off to the Cow Palace. REALLY prepared...legs are ready, cardiovascular system is ready, bike is ready, bag is packed. Traffic backed up? No problem...ready for that...we left early enough. A bit of confusion and noise in the lobby? No problem, ready for that too. A bit of wild and crazy stretching, ready for that too. And then the opening ceremonies started, and the cheeerleading, and the welcomes and greetings; ready for all that. And then the riderless bicycle was brought down the center of the Cow Palace arena floor, a tribute to those who lost their fight and can't be here, the ones this ride is for. Wasn't ready for that. All of a sudden the grim reality of why this event happens every year, why thousands of cyclists, volunteers, and supporters pull together to raise millions of dollars for treatment, support, and education to combat HIV/AIDS became crystal clear. Except it was really hard to see it through the tears. One riderless bike. Wasn't ready for that.
Out to the bike parking, push our prized two wheeled babies out the door into the cool morning air, and mount up...time to ride. Time to pedal five hundred forty five miles for a grand and wonderful purpose. And time to discover that everywhere we go we're bombarded by cheers. Words of encouragement, high fives, smiling faces, silly hats and wild attire...a grand celebration, and it's all being heaped on the riders. Heroes, they say. Okay, but no more heroic than the supporters. You rock, they say...but no more so than the roadies who make it happen. But we'll gladly take those cheers and head out onto the streets. Out into the streets where the Mom and Dad hold up the poster, a photo of a young man named Gary, the dates of his birth and his passing, and the words written boldly, "THANK YOU!". Tears and cheers.
And that's when the community of riders takes over. HUGE throng of bikes, way too many for the streets of San Francisco. How do I know if you're going to pass me? "On your left!", and a bike whizzes by. "Stopping!", and a line of cyclists is alerted to a red light. "HOLE!", and a potential bone-charring blast into a pot hole I could have hit is averted. The whole body of cyclists, working as one. Way cool.
Cycling is tons of fun, but it's hard work. You get tired. You can get cranky. You can forget to eat or drink enough. And then you pull into the rest stop and the green guy explains, with a straight face, that those packets that appear to contain Pop Tarts "are actually S'mores that we all made around the campfire last night" (I don't think so!). And these smiling ladies? That would be the Happy Birthday crew at another rest stop. All of them awesome, entertaining, encouraging, doing their part to fight HIV/AIDS just as certainly as the cyclists.
There are great stories to share about the miles (if you were one of those who heard me refer to day one as basically flat, just slap me upside the head and call me stupid), the pedaling (so far so good), and the stunning views (do the San Francisco to Half Moon Bay ride SOON if you haven't yet), but for tonight it's all about the big picture...tears, cheers, and "on your left". Thousands of people with broken hearts doing their little bit to make a difference.