This Saturday I rolled into the VA Center in Los Angeles, where my parents and friends stood among thousands of loved ones to cheer on about 2,300 victorious AIDS Lifecycle cyclists crossing the finish line. We were like conquering heroes, having just pedaled 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles over seven days and raising $6.3 million for people with HIV/AIDS. Beyond that we helped to eliminate stigma through visibility as we made our way down California’s lazy coastal towns into wine country around Paso Robles, and through miniscule towns like Bradley (pop. 93 as of 2010), where the local kids hold a barbecue for us to help raise money in order to have any sort of arts program at their school.
Of course, I am well aware that the money raised for the services at the LA LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation goes to help every demographic affected by HIV/AIDS, and not just gay men. But as a lesbian who came out in the mid-80s, growing up two hours of New York City and frequenting Pride there, that time of deep loss and devastation is forever imprinted on me, and part of why I ride is in homage to the beautiful, talented gay men I (we) lost. I came face to face with the immediacy to take action during NYC pride in 1989, as I stood before St. Patrick’s Cathedral completely moved by ACT/UP’s fervent march down Fifth Ave. armed with “Silence = Death” signs, and the image stayed with me.
With my innate love of camp sensibility, musicals, classic movies, and biting wit, I’ve found my friendships with gay men to be some of the easiest and most fulfilling in my life. One such friend I met since moving to California in 2006, who’s been HIV-positive since the early ‘90s, lost his job a few years ago, and he needed to use the services the money raised by Lifecycle goes to provide. I was grateful that thousands of crazy people like me, and all of our many, big-hearted donors, had worked so hard to fund programs that offer medications and care so that my best friend and others like him could receive life-saving treatment. I’m proud of the work we all do with AIDS Lifecycle, and these are the reasons I ride.
1. Because of shenanigans at the four rest stops per day.
Dinah Shore Classic-themed rest stop 1, Day 1 — the only rest stop where I was likely to hear the Indigo Girls and Tracy Chapman being blared.
Or this Jem and the Holograms-themed stop on Day 3, outside of Paso Robles. This rest stop crew volunteers tirelessly for months prior to the ride in order to deliver such fabulosity.
2. Because of new riders I helped as a Training Ride Leader this year.
We were at the halfway point to L.A., at an elevation of approximately 1,800 feet and Tobie thanked me for helping her learn how to use her gears for climbing early in the season.
Darice started riding this year and not only kicked some serious ass, but launched her own team.
3. I ride because of the boundless devotion of these volunteers.
D'Bree cheers us on roadside near Salinas.
Matt works through the night as a bike tech, ensuring all of our parts are in working order!
Seth dresses in various costumes along the route encouraging "safety."
4. I ride because those kids in tiny Bradley rely on us to help fund their school arts' program.
And because those kids have no judgement about HIV or why we ride.
5. I ride for the new, smart, sarcastic, funny friends I've made.
Like Aaron, with whom I discovered I share an unfettered love of Katy Perry while "Unconditionally" blasted around us at a rest stop.
Or Jason, with whom I hit it off the minute we met.
And Cole, who can take a sarcastic quip as well as he can hurl one.
6. I ride for the views of gorgeous California.
Like this scene somewhere between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay.
Or here, just north of Santa Cruz.
Or this, at Morro Bay.
7. I ride because of dedicated training ride leaders and veterans.
Like bike besties Tony and Doreen.
And Chris, all of whom have trained thousands of cyclists and raised tens of thousands of dollars for the cause over their many years as volunteers.
8. I ride because I met who would become my bike bestie four years ago.
With Marc looking as we do sans lycra at the ALC kick-off at The Lookout in the Castro.
And together we launched Pretty Little Riders this year, a small but mighty team of 7 that raised $138,000.
9. I ride because the team inspired me to kick up my fundraising and gave me a sense of belonging.
Together at the halfway point.
Pretty Little Riders just north of Ventura.
10. I ride because I get to do this on Red Dress Day.
It does make me wish I'd gone to private school.
11. I ride for the sense of accomplisment.
Raising $11,600 for people with HIV or AIDS feels really good.
12. I ride because cycle reps like Marni put their heart and soul into the cause.
13. I ride for strong, beautiful women supporting each other.
14. I ride so that no one ever has to lose someone to AIDS again.
Riders and roadies pay homage to those they've lost on these flags carried by the Pos Pedalers.
15. I ride to never forget, and for an HIV- and AIDS-free future.
A candlelit vigil on Day 6 offers time to reflect on the plague that many of us lived through.