While many of you were traveling to and participating in Netroots Nation, I was riding my bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles in AIDS/LifeCycle 11. I originally thought I could complete and post this diary in a hotel room immediately after the end of the ride but...I guess I'm too wordy or I was too tired or I just ran out of time. Things have been hectic since then but I figured I ought to provide you with an overview before the memories become too blurry. I began this diary just a few hours after the ride ended but it's taken a while for me to get things together. And on top of that, I decided to include pictures. Lots of pictures. And I had to choose them. So this turned out to be a bit more ambitious as a project than I'd originally conceived it.
This is a fairly lengthy diary; I hope you all will enjoy reading it. Most of the pictures appear further down, after a bit of text. In the interest of full disclosure, a few of the pictures that include me were taken by others but were offered to me for use.
Maybe some of you will decide to join me next year. I'll be the guy riding this bike...
Now follow me beyond the orange squiggle and I'll tell you how it all played out.
First, a quick summary:
Seven days; 541.4 miles (of which I completed 476); 2209 riders; San Francisco to LA; $12.6 million raised for AIDS treatment and prevention and significant if unquantifiable consciousness-raising due simply to the size of the event and the territory it covered. Also one week in what someone has now officially dubbed the "Love Bubble," meaning a movable city in which everyone is loved and accepted. Warning: it can be habit-forming.
Day 1: San Francisco Cow Palace to Harvey West Park, Santa Cruz. 82 miles.
Day 2: Harvey West Park, Santa Cruz to San Lorenzo County Park, King City. 109 miles
Day 3: San Lorenzo County Park, King City to Mid-State Fairgrounds, Paso Robles. 67 miles.
Day 4: Mid-State Fairgrounds, Paso Robles to Preisker Park, Santa Maria. 98 miles.
Day 5: Preisker Park, Santa Maria to River Park, Lompoc. 42 miles
Day 6: River Park, Lompoc to San Buenaventura State Beach, Ventura. 83 miles
Day 7: San Buenaventura State Beach, Ventura to VA Center, Los Angeles. 60 miles.
A short day doesn't always equate to an easy one. And a long day...well, a long day is always fairly taxing. Fortunately the route on Day Two is relatively flat. Days One, Three, Four and Five include major climbs, some of which have nicknames. There is a long but gradual climb early on Day Six; Day Seven is mainly flat though there are some brief uphills. We ride through downtowns of small to medium-sized cities, through small rural towns, through farmlands and through areas that are undeveloped. We pass through two different military installations: Fort Hunter-Liggett on Day Three and Vandenberg Air Force Base on Day Five. Apart from lunch stops, which are generally no-nonsense, each rest stop has a theme for the day. The same team of roadies staffs the same numbered rest stop each day; they are responsible for coming up with the each day's theme.
On certain days we don't have a full compliment of rest stops; on other days there is a water stop in addition to the four rest stops and the lunch stop. On Day Five the lunch stop is a mere three miles from the day's final destination but otherwise lunch is located more or less midway along each day's route. On some of the shorter days, one or two of the rest stop teams get the day off.
We're well taken care of. All of our gear is trucked from one campsite to the next so we don't need to carry anything other than what we might need for the day's riding. There are rest stops about every 20 miles on average, one of which is set aside for lunch. Some days include "unofficial" stops that are well-beloved by riders while others are known only to the few who take the extra time to stop at them. Because we are without running water for a good portion of the time, extra care is taken to ensure that we are protected from illnesses that might be caused by poor sanitation. And some of our unofficial stops are popular precisely because they include flush toilets and sinks. After an outbreak of gastroenteritis several years ago additional measures were instituted to promote good sanitation; these seemed to have worked very well.
There are many, many different groups of roadies to help us get through the day: There are the folks who serve lunch and dinner (two distinct and separate teams). There are people who drive sweep vehicles which stop to either assist riders having mechanical issues or take them to the next rest stop due to either because the mechanical problems can't readily be fixed or because the rider is in some sort of physical distress.
There is a motorcycle team tasked primarily with directing traffic at confusing or dangerous intersections. There is a massage team, a chiropractic team, a sports medicine team that deals with aches and pains and a medical team of nurses and doctors that deals with everything from holding meds that need refrigeration to people who have ongoing health issues to sudden illnesses. They hand out plenty of ibuprofen and sunscreen.
There are teams tasked with route marking, setup and breakdown of stops and campsites and posting signs within campsites. There is a team that manages bike parking in the campsites. There are bike techs who do repairs, both at rest stops and in camp. There are people who load and unload the gear trucks; during the day we carry with us only what we'll need for six to ten hours of cycling.
The ride has a code of conduct we must acknowledge and agree to abide by. Apart from the obvious fact that we have to obey the law there are additional rules to ensure our safety (no riding side-by-side or hands-free and no drafting). We also have to obey directions from ride staff and roadies (so yes...when a roadie tells you to roll through a stop sign, it's okay to do that; when a roadie tells you to stop even though you have a green light, you need to stay where you are). Violations can be dealt with by a gentle reminder, a verbal admonition, a "ticket" or by suspension for a day or more. The worst violations (these are very rare) can result in expulsion and possibly even being banned from participating in the future. Common sense of course dictates that we stay safe; there are other considerations as well. The ride passes through numerous local jurisdictions. I don't recall the exact number but it's in excess of fifty--everything from unincorporated areas to small towns to fairly large cities (and of course San Francisco at the beginning of the route and LA at the end). Portions of the ride go through areas that present very few viable alternatives. We have a saying that it takes only ONE rider, disobeying ONE rule, angering ONE locality to place the future of the ride--and all of the funds it raises and the goodwill and awareness it generates--in jeopardy.
In addition to the riders and roadies there is paid staff. Some of those individuals (including one fellow Kossack) work throughout the year; others are hired only for the event itself. If you want to work for the ride, you have to have participated at least once in some capacity. Finally, at the beginning and end of the ride there are additional volunteers (from the Bay Area at the front end and from the LA area at the back end) who help out in various ways during the opening and closing process.
The ride lasts for seven days; the day before we begin consists of Orientation (sometimes also referred to--especially by California AIDS Ride veterans--as "Day Zero"), a process everyone must go through in order to be allowed to proceed. There are even semi-official events on days preceding and following the event. The evening before Orientation there is a pasta feed sponsored by the Positive Pedalers, the group of riders and roadies living with HIV; since the ride normally ends the day before LA's Gay Pride Celebration, there is a large contingent of participants who take part in the festivities; another group participated in San Francisco's Pride celebration two weeks later. Fundraising teams frequently have parties for their members on Friday evening as well and there are numerous informal gatherings both before and after the ride.
Breakfast and dinner are cooked meals prepared by hired catering services but served by roadies. Lunch consists of sandwiches, pasta salads, chips, cookies, fruit and packages of raw carrots. There is a vegetarian option. For those who are vegan, the situation is a bit more complex. Those with very specific dietary needs are permitted to carry their own food which is stored safely. There is a program presented at dinner each evening which includes a summary of the day's high and low points, a preview of the following day's route and attractions, a weather forecast and a daily "top ten," usually of things heard during the day, or sights seen. As needed there is mention of accidents and a discussion of how well or how poorly we followed the safety rules. One year we were essentially read the riot act by the ride's director...and with good reason. There are nightly presentations featuring the work and/or the clients of the ride's beneficiaries. Some evenings include special events. For example, the evening of Day Three is set aside to recognize top fundraisers--both teams and individuals--and to acknowledge the Positive Pedalers. Some years there is a movie night. Several years ago Tracy Chapman was a rider; she did a forty-minute dinner-time concert. Day Five is set aside for group photos; until this year it also included a talent show. This year there was a stand-up comic. On Day Six there is a candlelight vigil.
Some personal high points:
- Six days of cycling in great weather through amazing scenery.
- My thirteenth time participating (my bar mitzvah ride if you will)
- $6,500 raised
- Was featured in an article in Instinct Magazine which appeared the day before the ride started
- My face showed up at the top of the ride's website for a couple of days (flattering if scary)
- A top speed of 48.6 miles per hour.
- Only one flat tire all week, and that one caused by inferior materials rather than something on the road.
- A lovely tan and not too much sunburn
- Great fun, making some new friends while reconnecting with old ones
- Sharing a tent for overnight for most of the week with someone who turned out to be a really, really nice guy
- Providing unintentional entertainment in the massage tent one day and in the sports medicine tent the next
- Inspiring stories of survival and triumph over adversity
- A lovely dinner after the ride ended
- About a thousand photographs, which (rightly or wrongly) are receiving some praise on Facebook (sfbob blushes modestly)
Some personal low points:
- A day shortened by rain and cold that could easily have ended up as a bout of hypothermia
- Having to spend half an hour looking for my bike the morning following said rain-shortened day
- Witness to a very serious fall (though not as bad as it looked when I rode by)
- Several of my friends sustaining less serious by nonetheless ride-ending injuries
- Never quite finishing a day's riding as early as I'd wanted to
- Not riding as fast as I used to and certainly not as fast as I wanted to
- Not raising quite as much money as I'd hoped to
- Failed electronics (my point-and-shoot camera and my Kindle, both of which are now replaced). Photoshop was able to rescue most of the problematic pictures.
All of that was the overview. Now I'll give you the memories:
Before we ride we have to go through Orientation. The process works like this:
One thing that is not an official part of Orientation but serves as training for the remainder of the week: you practice waiting in lines. There are lines everywhere, for everything. They normally are not too terribly long but they exist. You wait in line for a shower. You wait in line to get your food. You even have to wait in line to use the porta-potties that are a feature of every rest stop and campsite (you really, really learn to appreciate indoor plumbing!). You have to get used to it and what better time to start than at Orientation? Anyway, here's the actual procedure:
1. If you're local to San Francisco or to the Bay Area, you drop off your bike in the bike parking area, where it will remain overnight. Or, if you're coming in from elsewhere, you pick your bike up from the shipper and THEN take it to bike parking. If your bike needed to be disassembled before shipping there are techs there to get things back together.
2. If you have not raised the minimum amount of money, you sign a pledge to do so by July 15 and are charged for the shortfall (you receive a refund for any additional moneys you raise). If you have not completed and submitted the required medical form on-line in advance, you go to the medical table and complete your information there. Both of these are things to avoid, if possible, as they take time.
3. You watch the Safety Video. For which, of course, you need to wait in line. If you were able to skip number 2, above, this is your initial training for standing in lines. You multitask, which I did by taking pictures.
(On the left is LA Gay and Lesbian Center Executive Director Lorri Jean; on the right is this year's #1 fundraiser. Oh how I envy him!)
You don't get to proceed any further until you've seen the Safety Video. Once the video's over you receive a wristband that you have to wear for the remainder of the week. If you have to leave the video in the middle, you have to start over again (including waiting in line) and see the whole thing. If your wristband falls off...you have to watch the Safety Video AGAIN. And get another wristband.
Some people do some interesting things to get into the spirit...
4. You check in. You're given an envelope that has your participant number on it as a sticker, which you are supposed to attach to your helmet, and on sheet of waterproof paper, which you attach to your bike frame.
The check-in line got a bit out of hand at around noon...
5. You get your tent assignment. If you were able to get this taken care of in advance, the tag for your tent will be in the envelope with your participant number. Tents are laid out in a grid; each tent has a letter and a number. You get a tag to wear around your neck on a chain and another, different-sized tag to attach to your gear. Either you OR your tentmate will receive a third tag, which is attached to the tent you will pick up when you arrive at camp on your first night. You'll use the same tent every night. There are spare tents and spare parts for tents, just in case something should go wrong.
6. If you are entitled to fundraising incentives, you pick those up. And/or you go shopping in the Camp Store. I received a special jersey for having raised more than $5,000. At the Camp Store, I bought a pair of pajamas. Very stylish. The store carries everything from jerseys to cycling gloves to socks, to plush toys to lip balm to replacement flashlights to batteries and toothpaste and is set up every day in camp (which is why it's called the "Camp Store").
7. You put your frame number on your bike frame. It'll look something like this:
8. You wish your bike a good-night and go into separation anxiety. Don't worry, it'll be perfectly safe and it will have lots of company...
And while you're doing all of the above, you socialize. You see people you've been training with. You see people you haven't seen since last year's ride.
Every now and then someone will encounter someone from their past who they had NO idea was going to be doing this with them. You might make some new friends too.
During the week of the ride, current participants are given a fairly steep discount on registration for next year's ride. Yes, I took advantage of that discount.
(No, that isn't me. I'm about twice his age.)
If it's your first time around, the whole process can be pretty overwhelming. Even if you're a veteran, it can get overwhelming sometimes.
We remember that we're riding for a reason. There are banners laid out for folks to sign. They'll be used during Opening and Closing Ceremonies and will be on display in the Remembrance Tent during the week.
Here I am, leaving a memorial message to my late partner Mario...
9. You go home--or if you're from out of town you go back to your hotel or your friends' house where you're spending the night before the ride--finish packing, having an early dinner and get to bed. Because you're gonna have to be up at about 4 a.m. (and if you're like me, that's a REAL challenge).
I take lots of pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. I really, really like taking pictures. I run around like a maniac with a camera during Orientation. It's fun. A friend snagged a picture of me at my best...
On the first day we were blessed with especially pleasant weather. It's often cloudy along the coast at least until mid-day. Things were still gloomy early in the morning but that's pretty typical for the south end of San Francisco.
Before we ride out there is Opening Ceremonies. There is preliminary warming up and stretching. There are speeches. Then the most important part of the ceremony takes place. The banners we signed yesterday are carried out, accompanied by a bike with no rider to commemorate those we have lost.
There is solemnity and there are tears. But the day is supposed to be joyous. As soon as the riderless bike ceremony is over, the music cranks up, the ride is declared to be started, we head for our bikes, walk outdoors and line up. Eight or more months of pleading for money and getting up early on weekend mornings to train leads up to this very moment. For what it's worth, my training consisted of 1,815 miles of cycling, from late July until just before Memorial Day weekend, plus my daily commute (which is less than two miles in each direction, but it does add up). Some folks train more than that; I have in the past. For my very first ride I think I clocked some 3,000 miles of training. Others just get on their bikes and go. Those folks are either very young or very foolish. Some of them wonder what all the fuss was about and why others are saying the ride's a difficult thing to do, while others are miserable and swear they'll train more next time.
The privilege of leading things out is given to several groups, the largest of them being the Positive Pedalers, of which I am a member. It will be the only day during the week when I'm among the first people out of the gate. We're ready to go...
Our first real rest stop is in the toney suburb of Hillborough. By the time we arrive the morning's gloom has given way to bright sunshine.
Our first big hill takes us up State Highway 92 and then down into the town of Half Moon Bay. We're greeted at the summit by former participants who aren't riding this year.
Further down the route the crowds at the tops of climbs will consist of the folks who have already made it up the hill.
Our lunch stop is at San Gregorio State Beach, midway between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. It was sufficiently warm that we were able to take our lunches out to the bluff overlooking the beach and not be frozen or blown away. And this, I must tell you, is fairly unusual. Unfortunately this is where my camera problems first began to surface. Thank goodness for Photoshop!
The winds were also favorable; along one stretch just north of the town of Davenport I reached my top speed: 48.6 mph. I didn't get to camp particularly early but I most certainly had fun along the way. The theme of Rest Stop Four (always the most impressive) was "The Non-Breeders Cup." I got to ride a jockey.
I mentioned, I think in a comment in C&J shortly before the ride started, that I'd been profiled in an article in Instinct Magazine. When I arrived in camp I was informed that the photo of me that was included in the article had also shown up on the masthead of the ride website's main page. Very flattering, if a bit more attention than I was really comfortable with. Also when I arrive in camp, I am informed that the ride has placed my picture on the masthead of its front page...
...where it'll appear on and off throughout the week. I hope I didn't scare anyone away.
Everyone has to have a tentmate for the ride even if you have no intention of actually sleeping in a tent (I spent a couple of nights in hotels). My original tentmate was unable to make it this year and I was referred to someone I didn't really know. He turned out to be a terrific guy...sweet, low-key and, unlike me, very efficient. I am not a slow rider but he nevertheless managed to finish every day before me. Every morning he waited patiently for me to get my act together so we could take the tent down and store it properly. On a couple of mornings I told him to just get going or he'd still have hung around. He was just that kind of guy.
Rain is relatively rare in most of California at this time of year but the forecast for our second day included a 30% chance of showers. That turned out to be a bit overly optimistic. The morning began gray, but balmy and a bit on the humid side.
But things started to change at about 10 a.m. or so. Not only was there rain, there was a good bit more than was forecast. While those who headed out early mostly stayed ahead of the rain and the subsequent heavy winds and dropping temperatures, most of us (including me) were unable to finish the day. Despite the fact that the ride is advertised as a rain or shine event and there had only been one other canceled day since the first California AIDS Ride, the combination of wet roads and the terrain (lots of secondary roads through farmland that are often covered with dirt, turning into slick mud) caused the ride staff to close the route at about noon for safety reasons. There had already been a number of spills, mainly not serious but potentially so, as well as many, many cases of hypothermia. I found myself at about mile 35, shivering as I rode through chilly rain (which I was certain would stop at any moment). One of the unofficial treats on this day is a farm store in the town of Castroville that sells steamed and fried artichokes. I'd thought the fried artichokes would warm me up. The store managers had begun giving us improvised rain jackets fashioned from trash bags (they even cut the holes for arms and heads).
That didn't help. One of them suggested a cup of hot tea. That didn't help either. Ride staff suggested that we try to make it to the next official rest stop only five miles away, but after riding fifty feet or so I realized I was right on the edge of a medical emergency so I stopped and asked one of the motorcycle drivers to call a sweep vehicle. He had me stand next to the running motor to keep warm until one of the vans showed up and I was taken to Rest Stop 2 where there were a good 200 or 300 others in my situation. We were being loaded onto trucks to be taken to lunch (everyone gets lunch one way or the other since nutrition is vitally important) when we were told to walk a block to a nearby church which had generously offered to serve as a temporary shelter. Buses began to arrive. We were taken first to the lunch stop where there were even more bikes sitting in the rain while the riders stranded there were waiting inside a nearby community college. Those of us in the buses ate our lunches there while those in the school building were served indoors. The buses continued to travel the route until every one was brought safely to our next campsite...where there had been no rain at all. The last rider arrived at about 8 p.m.; the last bike wasn't unloaded until 1:30 the following morning. My tentmate managed to ride every last mile. He also arrived before I did, even though he was on his bike while I was on a bus.
As if to make up for the previous day's torture, we awoke the following morning to brilliant sunshine and cool but pleasant temperatures.
Day Three of the ride is (to us at any rate) a moderately short one at 65 miles but includes what I think is the week's toughest climb, the aptly named Quadbuster. About 1.5 miles long with a grade of about 10%, it isn't would not be nearly as tough if we were on the first day of the ride. Most people however don't normally have the opportunity to train by riding day after day so a third day of riding can be very much of a challenge. I managed to make it up the hill, though I had to remember why I was doing this--the friends I'd lost, the friend who'd broken both of her wrists shorty before the ride started and who had to break her streak of having ridden every single mile of every ride since the first California AIDS Ride in 1994. Some people, particularly on this day, get to the top, turn around, go back and do it again. I'm not one of those people. I know I can get up the hill once so that's what I do.
As with most hills, and particularly this one, there is typically a crowd at the top cheering riders on as they reach the summit. Since this portion of the route is on the edge of a major military establishment (Fort Hunter-Liggett) we were informed that planned activities would prevent us from sticking around at the top. Still, it doesn't count if you don't celebrate for a bit...
And after the summit we were rewarded with a brisk and relatively gentle downhill of several miles. And then the treats REALLY started.
We're now riding through an area where it's mostly road, fields, and low hills. It's really stunning.
Bradley, California, is a town of perhaps 250 people where we have our lunch stop.
For as far back as I can recall, they have given us a good welcome every year. They throw a barbeque for us as a means of funding programs for their one and only public school. The food is a nice change of pace from the sandwiches we're usually offered and, between the burgers and the commemorative items they offer for sale or for a donation, they raised well in excess of $10,000.
The burgers were great. Then it's back on the road. I generally spend most of the week riding on my own. I'm not sure why; it just seems to work out that way. Though there are people I see constantly, I tend to maintain my own pace. Today however I spent part of the morning riding with a fellow by the name of Josh, who was riding for the first time. After lunch I began riding with two friends and a couple of other people THEY had taken under their respective wings. This came in handy when one of them blew a tire. We all pitched in to get it fixed.
This day also includes our first stretch of freeway riding, two different points along US Highway 101, both before and after lunch. It's a bit intimidating being on a road where cars whiz by at 70 mph but that isn't really the hard part since we aren't permitted to ride in the traffic lanes. We're supposed to stick to the shoulder. For years it has been the bane of our existence because the pavement was really deteriorated; there were huge cracks every few feet that subjected us to endless jarring which was probably way more nerve-racking than the speeding vehicles next to us. We found out a few weeks ago that the shoulder had been repaved. It was quite heavenly.
San Miguel dates back to the days of Spanish rule in California and includes an old Spanish mission church (Mission San Miguel Arcangel) which has hosted our final rest stop of the day for many, many years. Several years ago a moderately strong earthquake hit the area doing damage to nearby Paso Robles as well as San Miguel, and the church was very badly damaged. Still the local friars continued to welcome us.
Did I mention that each of the rest stops has a theme every day? Did I mention that perhaps 60% of ride participants are gay, lesbian or bisexual and that a small but significant number are transgendered? Did I mention that many of the rest stop themes are more than a bit risque? And that Rest Stop Four's themes are the most over the top and generally include some variation of drag? Well all of that is true. And yet, no matter how racy and over-the-top the day's theme is, the mission continues to welcome us. On Day Three, the Rest Stop Folks put on a show put on at 20 minute intervals. (The timing is intended, in part, to encourage riders to rest, but not for too long.) This year's theme was "Best Little FOUR-House in Texas." (Get it?) And for all that, the friars still welcome us.
Since the quake the team that runs Rest Stop Four has taken it upon themselves to collect funds to help restore the mission. We donated some $6,000 this year. Being gay and not Catholic I am not generally inclined to give funds to a Catholic Church but on this day I make an exception. I know where the money's going and I totally support it. It's truly a beautiful building; this picture is actually from my first ride.
Our campsite is in nearby Paso Robles. There are numerous motels near the campsite which is rather noisy and, under typical circumstances breezy and hot by day, breezy and chilly by night. In ride parlance, spending a night in a hotel or motel is referred to as "princessing." Riders who do this every night are described as being on the "Princess Plan." In Paso Robles, I'm a princess. Still I shower and change (and if I have time and am staying where one is a handy, avail myself of the nearest jacuzzi), and return to camp. The evening's program is always dedicated to the Positive Pedalers--those participants who are themselves living with HIV or AIDS. I am and have long been a member of Positive Pedalers so I have to be there. The evening's speaker this year was a woman who has no obvious connection with the AIDS epidemic--a retired, middle-class Jewish mother from Philadelphia who could, for all the world, have been my own mom, though she's a bit too young. She even looks a bit like my mom and has the same sort of spunk. She's also a breast cancer survivor...and she's been living with HIV for two decades. She's the one in the middle, below.
Each year the group presents an award to a member of the ride community for the particular service to the ride and/or to those living with HIV. I suppose I ought to mention that I have received this reward (though I didn't feel as though I'd done anything to earn it). This year the award was given to a long-time participant who has served as a rider, a roadie, a member of paid staff for the duration of the ride and on the board of directors of Positive Pedalers. Though he no longer rides he conducts training rides in and around Portland, Oregon where he currently lives, for those participating in the ride. He's not only a very handsome man, he's also a wonderful human being who everyone adores (including Trapper). To top it off, when he received the award it was announced that what was previously known as the "Stand Up" award would henceforth be named for him.
The fourth day of the ride clocks in at just short of 100 miles. It's definitely a day to start out early even though morning temperatures in Paso Robles, no matter how high they climb during the day, usually start out rather brisk.
We climb the second big summit--fondly referred to as the "Evil Twins" (though there are in fact three of them and they aren't really as tough to climb as Quadbuster; the elevation is greater but the pitch is much more gradual). This takes us to the highest point on the ride and just beyond it is the halfway point in terms of our overall mileage. Before the climb we have our first rest stop, at a country store with a farm theme. There was a surprise waiting under the store's front porch.
We manage to hit the Pacific Coast not just once but twice. First we ride through the beach community of Cayucos. There's a diner there where I like to stop; I had lunch with my friend Edna who's done the ride nearly as many times as I have. We turn inland and stop for lunch officially in city of San Luis Obispo. Lunch is at one end of town; there is another rest stop at the other end of town. We then return to the coast again at Pismo Beach and ride along Highway One through Pismo Beach, Grover Beach and Oceano before turning inland once again for another smaller climb. Right at mile 70 or so there is a shop that sells cinnamon rolls. It's considered a "don't miss" opportunity to stop but there's always a long line out the door so until this year I rode by. I was riding with a friend who was escorting two first-timers and he absolutely insisted that we stop. So we did. The cinnamon rolls were delicious! I'll be sure to stop in next year.
We continue on Highway One to the town of Guadalupe, crossing the line into Santa Barbara County which officially takes us out of Northern California into Southern California. There is a final rest stop and we turn inland even further. Tailwinds take us into the city of Santa Maria where we stop for the night. What with all the unofficial stops I don't arrive until 6:45; it's all I can do to set up my bed (my tentmate arrived much earlier and set up the tent), shower, change and have dinner before darkness sets in.
This is a special day in more ways than one. It's the shortest (scheduled) day of riding for the week, though there are in fact three significant hills to climb. The route takes us from Santa Maria to Lompoc. Since it's really only a 20-mile straight-line trip from one city to the other, we meander just a bit through downtown Santa Maria, then head west towards the coast and Vandenberg Air Force Base, before doubling back and entering "downtown" Lompoc. Lunch is only three miles from our campsite. But that isn't what really makes the day special...oh, no. What makes Day Five special is that it is Red Dress Day (or Dress in Red Day or Dress Red Day). The tradition began on one of the other 1990's-era AIDS Rides when someone had the idea that, if everyone wore red, we'd look like an enormous red AIDS ribbon. In the hands of the many gay men (and lesbians, and creative heterosexual allies) it soon became a show of fashion, accessories and outrageousness.
Of course, some people go for the minimalist look.
Even my very self-effacing tentmate got in on things...
Overall, the day is part visual statement of purpose...
...and part costume party on wheels.
One of the ride employees, a very straight, self-described "scary Mexican" grandfather, began his career as a rider and wrote a book about preparing for his first ride. In this memoir he swore he'd never, ever be caught wearing a red dress. The following year I caught sight of him riding along, swathed in miles of red chiffon. We have that sort of effect.
Although I once again did not arrive in camp as early as I'd have liked, the short day afforded me the luxury of some downtime. I had my first go-round with the folks in Sports Medicine with sufficient time left to squeeze in a fifteen-minute massage. I like getting massages and don't do so nearly often enough. I can get noisy if the massage is good, which this one definitely was. The rest of the massage team found this quite amusing.
The day is normally set aside for group and team pictures. Positive Pedalers celebrated Day Five with a pizza party. I hit the sack early, partly because I'm tired and partly because I want to be up and on the road early so I enjoy the day.
I really, really love Day Six. The picture below is gratuitous; I've posted it simply because it's terrific.
The Gear and Tent folks have made the morning of Day Six "White Trash Morning."
(Note: The beer cans are props. AIDS/LifeCycle is a drug- and alcohol-free event.)
(The cigarettes are props too. We do have riders who smoke--go figure--but smoking is strongly discouraged and there are very few places in camp or at rest stops where smoking permitted.)
Once we're out of camp, we make a left turn onto Highway One; this takes us onto Highway 101, which we follow all the way to Santa Barbara, tracking the coastline most of the way. As soon as we're on Highway One things go from semi-urban to rural. We ride through areas of large coastal ranches, gradually climbing.
A mile beyond our first rest stop we reach the summit of our final big climb of the week. The descent is steep, exhilarating...and potentially very dangerous. We are warned, with good reason, to watch our speed and pay attention. Near the bottom of the downhill we merge with Highway 101 which is freeway at this point, passing through Gaviota Pass before we emerge to be greeted with views of the Southern California coast. At the merge point I see a rider, on foot, standing right on the white line separating the shoulder from the main road. I wonder what the hell he's doing there. Unfortunately I soon find out. Fifty feet further on is a ride staff person on her cellphone, an ambulance and a rider...down, in the traffic lane, not moving. Unless it's clear that we're needed to direct traffic around we're asked to keep going around accident sites. The sight of the fellow lying there inert is absolutely terrifying. This could of course have been me.
I spent the next ten minutes or so pedaling and crying. I'm not entirely sure what precipitated my reaction. It's certainly try that the scene I witnessed was frightening. It's also true that when you ride your bike for a week, you're liable to become quite vulnerable emotionally. Whatever the situation, it took me a while to regain my composure. I was particularly cautious. I kept going because to do otherwise would probably contribute nothing to the situation and in fact might cause a further hazard to others. I was finally able, at the next rest stop, to talk things out with several people, one of whom assured me that he had seen the crash victim talking to the EMT folks. This didn't mean his injuries were not serious, but at least he was conscious, and that's not a small matter.
When you experience this sort of thing, at a certain point you need to refocus your attention and that's what happened. I felt more than a bit foolish crying about someone whose identity I did not know; in a certain sense it was not my business and I did not want to fall into the trap of becoming maudlin. At some point, I was cheered up enough to proceed, so went on my way, paying extra attention to my own safety and to the safety of others. Using the incident as a wake-up call is the best way to handle it. And admiring the scenery is a good way to make yourself feel better whether it's this sort of scenery...
or this sort of scenery...
...or even this sort of scenery.
Meanwhile I noticed that some physical discomfort I'd been feeling on and off earlier in the week had returned. It wasn't anything serious, just an intermittent ache in my left thigh; the same problem I thought had been fixed the day before. I resolved to get it looked at as soon as possible. One thing you learn: if it's a nuisance now, take care of it right away. Today's nuisance is tomorrow's misery. The Sports Medicine folks had set up shop at the day's lunch spot. I put my name on the list, grabbed my lunch, took more pictures--of more friends and others--and waited until my name was called. I described the problem to the woman I was assigned to. She put me on her table, on my back, and got to work. I began to scream. IT HURT!!!!! Man did it ever hurt! I don't know the precise name of the muscle involved; it was just above my left knee. But there was one hell of a knot in it and it needed to come out. I apparently attracted quite a bit of attention with the racket I was making. After about ten minutes, I was calmed down. The woman working on me told me that the same pressure that had caused me to create a deafening uproar was no longer having the same effect. The specific muscle involved is not an easy one to handle with casual stretching but she showed me a couple of things to do and I was once more on the road.
Riding through Santa Barbara is always a bittersweet experience for me. My late partner Mario had moved there in the mid-1970's with his ex and had lived in and around the area until the early 80's. In 1989 we took a trip down the coast, stayed with a friend who was, at that time, living in the suburban town of Santa Ynez. He showed me some of the markers of his time there, including the place where he'd attended his first AA meeting. We went swimming at Summerland Beach, south of town.
One of our rest stops is located at Santa Barbara City College, where Mario obtained his degree in restaurant management. He worked as a chef for a number of years and let me tell you he was a terrific cook. I plan a brief stop to use the porta-potty. Proper hydrating makes frequent stops necessary. Several of my friends are working Rest Stop Three this year. Today they're smurfs.
As I get ready to ride out I discover that I have a flat tire...my first and last one of the week, caused by a materials failure rather than an actual puncture. I let the bike techs take care of it.
The aforementioned rest stop, where we begin riding along the municipal beach, often gets short shrift by our riders. There's a reason for that. Back in the AIDS Ride days, Santa Barbara fielded a rather formidable team, Team Santa Barbara. Most of the individuals who were involved back then no longer ride. Instead they provide us with an unofficial stop along the way. Instead of Clif Bars, Chex Mix and bananas, they provide us with locally-manufactured ICE CREAM! And fresh strawberries. And home-baked cookies. It ain't healthy, but it's really, really tasty. I had seconds.
Slightly bloated but very happy, we continue on our way. We get another nice glimpse of the beach.
Then we turn to cross to the inland side of Highway 101 and proceed through Montecito. The parallel road we're on dead-ends at a T intersection, we cross the 101 again to ride through the city of Carpinteria; at the south end of town we run out of space between freeway and shore and we're back on the shoulder of the freeway with the coast to our right. About eight miles down, Highway One branches off and takes us to Rest Stop 4. For some reason this is another of those "high-point-of-the-week" themes. In 2001, the theme was Christmas in June. Last year was the tenth anniversary of AIDS/LifeCycle and there were memories of Rest Stop Fours past. This year...Thunderdome. A DJ and goth gear.
From here it's only eight more miles until we reach our campsite at San Buenaventura State Beach. As usual I arrive later than I'd wanted to. Tonight I'm a princess once again. There's a Marriott right across the street from the campsite and I really need comfort. I still have dinner in camp though.
Following dinner and some final announcements there is a candlight vigil on the beach in memory of those we have lost. I have to admit that after attending a few times I decided I would not stick around. The ceremony runs a bit late; if you want to be on the road at 6 a.m., you really should be in bed by 9 the night before. For those planning on riding for the first time, DO NOT miss the candlelight vigil. It's a very powerful experience.
And so it ends. People who've slept in the campsite (Ventura is a very popular place for "princessing") pack up their tents for the last time.
In order to ensure that everyone arrives at the end of the route in time for Closing Ceremonies, the route opens a half hour earlier on Day Seven. For the first time since Monday morning the skies are a bit on the gray side early on but the temperature is mild and the fog soon dissipates. The early portion of the route is not terribly exciting, passing through Ventura, Oxnard and Port Hueneme. It IS flat and there is ample opportunity to keep a brisk pace, which I do. As often seems to be the case with the California coast, the area where there is lots of development narrows down, pinched by water on one side and coastal hills on the other. We return to State Highway One, the Pacific Coast Highway, just north of Point Mugu and make our first stop. From here on we'll be on PCH until the final few miles of the ride. The rest stop itself is rather nondescript; it's little more than a place for Caltrans vehicles and storage. But beyond that point it becomes quite spectacular, with beaches hemmed in by low mountains.
The ride, in its long history, has given rise to quite a few characters. For example, there is "Chicken Lady." Chicken Lady is a fellow of a certain age who, in real life, is a flight attendant. Way back in the early AIDS Ride days someone told him he was "too chicken" to do the ride. He took up the challenge and adopted the chicken as a badge of honor. He acquired a bunch of accessories with a chicken theme.
He's by no means any sort of athlete but he is one of the sweetest people one could ever hope to know. When we get to our bikes on the final morning we find a plastic egg rubber-banded to our saddles. Inside the egg is a mint Life Saver and a message of encouragement which he's provided for us (I saw him filling eggs one night so I know he prepares them all by himself). There are--or more precisely WERE--other individuals with a persona. An older couple, whose son has been a rider in multiple years took to following the route, calling themselves "Mom and Dad." They were roadies for several years and were riders once or twice. There is also the inimitable Ginger Brewlay. As a "civilian" Ginger rode on the first couple of AIDS Rides but he's also a long-term survivor of HIV; the second year of riding landed him in the hospital for an extended stay due to exhaustion and general depletion. Since he didn't want to simply drop out, and since he's rather the creative type, he invented the character of Ginger Brewlay, whose sole purpose was to stand at the top of the toughest climb of the day and cheer people on. After last year, Mom, Dad and Ginger all decided to "retire." But they couldn't stay away completely. A few miles beyond Rest Stop One, they were stationed at the side of the road. They are warm and wonderful people and it's always a treat to see them...even if their appearances are now limited to a single day.
Out of Rest Stop Two, right near the Ventura-LA County Line, I fulfilled an obligation of all experienced riders: I stopped to help someone fix a flat tire. This particular young woman was a first-year rider who had never had a flat tire before. She really didn't know how to do it. In fact she mainly succeeded in covering herself with grease from her chain.
It can be tough getting a bike tire off the wheel if it's not been done previously and it took three of us, but we managed to get everything taken care of. Another person stopped to chip in with a CO2 cartridge. As with many things on this event it takes a group to fix a flat...including one person to stand there giving a "thumbs up" or a "thumbs down" depending on whether more help is needed.
The final day of the ride is fun; after all we spend most of it riding right along the coastal beaches until our final inland turn towards the finishline. And much of it is extremely pretty.
However it presents some logistical and safety issues. Highway One is the main thoroughfare for the City of Malibu. It can get very, very crowded. There is no bike lane. We've been riding for a week; folks are tired and, at the same time, exhilarated about completing seven days of riding. If you don't believe we're exhilarated, check out these smiles.
There are almost always falls and injuries on Day Seven. For that reason, CHP gave us certain guidelines we were told we needed to follow in order to minimize the risk of accidents and keep traffic moving. Unfortunately there was a bit of a miscommunication. Some of the volunteers were telling us that we were not permitted to pass one another on PCH--AT ALL. This would of course put everyone at the mercy of the slowest cyclist and potentially lead to enormous backups of riders. Many people understandably realized that this didn't make a great deal of sense and ignored what they viewed as an irrational prohibition. Others did their best to enforce the rule they were given. It got kind of vexing at times. Okay, it got VERY vexing. I concluded, based on trying to be a "good citizen" and do what I'd been told, that there was no point in hurrying. After all, one way or another, I'd get where I was going. I took it very easy on my way to lunch. In fact I took it TOO easy. Lunch was scheduled to close at 1 p.m.; I arrived at 12:15. This sounds like plenty of time but realistically it isn't. It means you eat and run. And that's really too bad. We have our final lunch stop at Malibu Bluffs State Park; a lovely setting directly across PCH from Pepperdine University with views up and down the coast. If you get there early enough there is ample incentive to hang out. I managed to be in and out of the stop in 35 minutes; cyclists were still coming in. I usually manage to take a goodly number of pictures at lunch but today there wasn't much time.
While I was at lunch I had a conversation with one of the ride staff about the "no-passing" rule. He confirmed that CHP's instructions had been misunderstood. We were required only to refrain from passing to the left of the white line that delineates the right-hand traffic lane, as we'd been mandated to do when riding on freeways. In fact, as far as he was concerned, since he knew that I knew what I was doing he didn't see a problem with me passing in traffic if necessary. I pretty much decided to ignore that bit of largesse and fortunately I fell in with a fairly peppy group of riders. It was still somewhat frustrating.
LA geography is funny. First we're in Malibu. Then we're in LA. Once we're in LA we exit PCH and enter Will Rogers State Beach where we ride along bike- and pedestrian path until we get to Channel Drive. There's an underpass. We dismount, carry our bikes down a set of steps, through a tunnel under PCH and back up to Channel Road. We're now on the final three or four miles. We ride a few blocks up Channel Road and make a sharp right turn. We're now at the base of a short steep hill on a narrow street hill and are in Santa Monica. At the top of the hill we make a left turn to enter San Vicente Blvd and travel along it, riding through Santa Monica until we're almost done, at which point we're back in LA. Because of the traffic we make a final right so we can cross over San Vicente instead of turning left from it. And then we're on our last few blocks. This is an emotional stretch. There's a sense of accomplishment and joy. There's a sense of relief at almost being finished. And there is also a sense of sadness. I've done this ride thirteen times now. Even after all these years it remains one of the most intense experiences I can comprehend and, exhausting, grueling and frustrating as it may be at times, it's somehow sad to know that the week is over.
Montana Avenue takes us back across San Vicente. There is a dip and a rise, a sharp right turn and a little more climbing. The VA Center is on our left. We turn left into the VA Center grounds; a few hundred feet beyond, an inflatable arch greets us. Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to take a picture of the arch but luckily someone captured a picture of me riding in.
We're home; we've made it. It's over for another year. Trapper's there to meet me...though it takes a bit of time for us to find each other. I decided to skip out on Closing Ceremonies this year (Trapper is quite thrilled by this.) There are final sets of hugs. We did well. We raised money and awareness. We haven't cured AIDS but we've helped make the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people at least a bit better.
Now it's time to start training for next year's ride. I began with a 35-miler last Sunday. Fundraising will start in August. Official training rides begin as soon as the first set of ride leaders is certified. The "official" beginning of training happens with the "Kickoff Rides" in mid-October. I hope I'll see some of you on the road.