It's Sunday evening and AIDS/Lifecycle 8 is officially over, but there are a few loose ends to tie up here. Janice and I enjoyed a great post-ride celebration dinner with our kids Josh and Rebecca and their "significant others" Debbie and Mark. We spent the night at Josh's house, and I got up early this morning and headed out for a bike ride (yeah, really did). It was about 6:30, just like any other day this week, except I skipped breakfast because the roadies didn't have my oatmeal, scrambled eggs, ham, fruit, and coffee ready for me. I got on my bike without a route map because the bike parking roadies weren't there to hand them out. I headed off aimlessly on streets I don't really know because the moto safety guys weren't out there to point out the turns. I rode up a long, challenging hill, and at the top made a really bad guess as to which way to turn because the route guys hadn't gone out to mark the route for me. I was already tired because my bike wasn't purring because my chain was dragging a little and I needed air in a tire since the bike tech guys weren't there when I started out. I rolled down the back side of the hill about a half mile, realized my mistake, turned around and headed back up the hill when my knee starting to complain a little because I hadn't done my customary "rest stop one stretching time", because the "rest stop one" guys weren't there. Even worse, Chicken Lady (hang on, readers, that will be explained soon) wasn't there to encourage me on the climb. And I realized my energy was lagging because I had skipped breakfast and there wasn't the rest stop food to refuel with. I finally headed back to Josh's house, about 22 miles of tough riding behind me, and realized just how much easier it had been all week because of so much support from so many people. Thanks again, roadies.
I need to introduce a couple more people, new acquaintances of mine. The first is John (sorry John, I didn't get your photo). He's a roadie, assigned to bike parking. I had a few chances to chat with him during the week and was impressed by his complete dedication to the task of making the ride work for all of the cyclists. He has been a cyclist, and knows both sides of this equation. I asked him how long it took to get all the bikes trucked down from Lompoc to Ventura in the rain, unloaded, parked, bar-code scanned, and ready for us to hop on first thing Saturday morning. He said they were up until midnight, and then up at 4:00 a.m. to get ready for the new day. Yikes! Thank you John, and all the rest of you who took on this extra task while we slept...just another look at how this whole amazing thing happens.
And then there's Chicken Lady...aren't those some fine looking feathers? Chicken Lady is one of the nicest and most humble guys you will ever meet. Famous for the chicken atop his helmet and some rather eye-catching attire, he is equally well known by the rest of the cyclists for his unending stream of words of encouragement, quips of humor, and unabashed delight. "On your left, Chicken Lady"..."My God, how many more of you are going by??". Totally committed to making the rest of us smile, always thinking "others first". We headed out to the bikes on Saturday morning in Ventura and found a plastic egg with a surprise on each seat. Someone saw him putting them there late the previous night (worked until 2:00 on the project) and told him he didn't need to do that. His response was "But I WANT to do this; I LIKE to make people happy!". His story? A longtime cyclist with ALC, he was flattened by a major stroke last year, and the prospects for his recovery were not good. When his rehabilitation began, his progress and recovery verged on the miraculous; the conclusion was that his muscle memory was exceptional because of his many years of countless hours of cycling in preparation for and participation in the AIDS/Lifecycle rides. Welcome back Chicken Lady...we love you! (To which he would probably reply, "Me???")
Now we'll move on to Bruce...actually two Bruces. First is Bruce my tentmate (sorry, no photo available), who is a new friend and was a great partner through the week. We got to comiserate over missing our lovely wives, swap stories about our kids, and just plain enjoy hanging out together. Thanks Bruce!
And then there's Bruce the shark who spent the week atop my helmet (except, ironically, the rainy day when he was confined to a plastic bag in my duffel bag because we awoke to a very soggy stuffed shark in a huge puddle in the tent...I wasn't interested in having him ooze on my head all day!). He reminded me of Bruce the shark from Finding Nemo...the three sharks were a support group for one another, with their mantra "fish are friends, not food". Their objective was to overcome a lifetime of conditioning and re-think their perception of the other creatures of the ocean with whom they swam, in hopes of being able to co-exist in harmony with them...friends, not prey. Bruce was constantly in need of reminders and interventions from his two buddies. I live in the straight world. King City, where I have spent the past thirty years, doesn't have an openly gay community. When I was raised in Southern California in the 50's and 60's, we were not taught to respect and understand the gay lifestyle or community. We were allowed to percieve gays as strange, wrong, and just plain messed up. It has taken many years to gradually work through a lifetime of misunderstanding, and I understand the difficulty that Bruce the shark faced in that movie. He sat on my helmet for a week as a reminder of attitues that I used to carry, and as a reminder that I had been welcomed with open arms into a community that I once scoffed at. That I was able to co-exist in harmony in this community is a testament to those who were willing to accept me far more than anything that I did. Friends, not prey. Thanks folks...that alone would have been worth the week on the ride.
And finally, a few thoughts on commitment, completion, and closure. When I decided to ride in AIDS/Lifecycle 8, I decided that I wanted to ride every mile of the road, 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, no walking the bike up the hills, and no stopping to rest on the climbs. I didn't have to, and there's nothing wrong with taking a dfferent approach, it was just something I wanted to do and I committed to a serious enough training program to give myself a shot at that. In the process, I overcame Jolon Grade (Quadbuster), and rode it confidently. I was startled by the short 15% grade hill coming out of San Miguel, but I was prepared for it and rode it well. I was shocked by the grade on Halcyon Road (did I really hear 21% grade, or was that an exaggeration? Either way it was by far the steepest climb we faced), but I huffed and puffed my way over that one too. And as the week wore on, I actually felt stronger. So the rain-shortened ride on Friday was a big disappointment. Okay...we'll ride every mile that they'll allow us to ride. And that's good enough of course. But when Janice and I arrived in King City this afternoon and my bike computer showed 537 miles for the week there was only one acceptable course of action. There's a delightful little ride that I often do, from my office out to 1st Street, up to San Antonio Drive where we entered King City on Tuesday, and over to San Lorenzo Park where we spent the night. A loop through the park, double back all the way to my office, and you have done a nice eight mile ride. I snapped this photo in front of 222 S. Russ St. where I work. Done.
It was late August when Marilyn Becker told me, very simply, "well, if you've always wanted to do this ride, then you need to sign up and do it." Nine months of training, over 4,000 miles on the bike, over $8,000 raised for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, and 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles on a bike. Lots of reasons...for the memory of my nephew Michael, lost to AIDS years ago, out of respect for his family so that someone might get a little better support than they did, for someone out there who is dealing with HIV/AIDS or who might be in line to be a victim for lack of testing and prevention, for myself to be able to say "I did this". AIDS/Lifecycle 8 ended yesterday afternoon. A journey that I embarked upon nine months ago has only begun.
Afterword: The purpose of this blog has been to bring ALC 8 home to you, the reader. One can't really know an event without experiencing it, but one can know ABOUT an event if a close look is available. I hope this has been accomplished. Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts, feelings, and observations. The benefit to me has been much deeper reflection on the essence of the event than I would have engaged in. Thank you for joining me on this journey. I would love to hear your thoughts either by posted comments or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ride on folks...David Phillips, rider #1462