When I told people I was riding my bicycle 545 miles for a charity, most people responded with “that’s crazy” or some similar sentiment. And they were right; it takes a certain amount of insanity to devote every weekend for about half a year to train and ride and become a cyclist for AIDS/LifeCycle.
AIDS/LifeCycle is a 545-mile, seven-day journey and fundraiser to help support both the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Los Angeles LGBT Center. Individuals have been dedicating their time and bodies for this event for more than 20 years. Originally known as the California AIDS Ride, it turned into AIDS/LifeCycle as an effort between both major cities to help eradicate and end AIDS.
Everyone has their reasons for riding and many told me theirs.
When I first joined, I had no clue what I was in for, but I knew I faced two challenges: raising money and doing the actual ride itself.
This was happening during the first year of Trump’s presidency, and he was already destroying the support systems for the LGBT community, so I was more than determined to not let myself or my community down. Doing this ride and fundraiser was my way of standing up to a leader who didn’t care for the LGBT community, and I wanted to go beyond simply protesting.
Training was the next challenge. I was not athletic by any means and climbing up any hill was such an effort. More so because I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. Every week I would face a new challenge — whether it was learning to gear down on a climb, traveling a longer distance, using bike clips for the first time, or climbing a brand new hill. Every week I would wake up early and drive from Santa Cruz to San Francisco to train with my teammates.
I fell off my bike quite a few times and even got hit by a truck during a training ride. Thankfully, I turned out okay. And I cried a few times because I wasn’t used to climbing hills like those in Marin and San Francisco. I cried because I was tired, I didn’t want to fail, and because I wanted to ride for people I’ve known who died due to HIV/AIDS.
Well, several months later, I got to the point where I was ready for ALC. I had ridden and trained up to 100 miles in a day and had trained two days consecutively to prepare my body for an endurance ride. But nothing ever truly prepares you for this. It is beyond physical. Every day was its own challenge.
On Day One, I cried in memoriam for all the lives lost at the opening ceremony, and I crashed my bike on Highway 1 and scraped my knee. Day Two was 109 miles with me constantly trying to keep up with other riders so I didn’t get swept for being too slow. Day Three gave us the “quad buster,” which was a challenging climb. Day Four was the halfway point where we faced two climbs called “the evil twins” and I almost bonked at the end of this day. Day Five was red dress day and we faced some of the WORST headwinds ever. Day Six was a candlelight vigil and the day I officially met my fundraising goal. I broke down and cried my eyes out because I didn’t believe I would ever make it to my goal. I was shocked and overwhelmed with so much emotion that evening from the vigil and my achievement. Finally, on Day Seven we rode into Los Angeles. I cried a lot that day as well. I was crying for a lot of reasons, mostly because this ride actually did more for me than I did for the ride.
I live with depression and anxiety and 2017 took its toll on me. With all of these challenges on top of all the political shifts, I felt quite alone and numb. For a period of time, I had seriously thought about making a permanent choice about my life. But through what is known as the “love bubble” on the ride, I found friendship, community, love and support. AIDS/LifeCycle saved my life.
Most people have their reasons for doing the ride. I have a few close friends and family members that I ride for but my main reason for riding is to help those who don’t have the privilege or access to mental health care.
I ride to raise money for those individuals because I understand their pain and want them to have that support available. There is still a stigma to living with HIV/AIDS and that can affect one’s emotional health. I want those individuals to know that there is a place of support for them and to feel loved by their community, even on the darkest of days.
That is why I ride.
AIDS/Lifecycle rides out again on June 3, 2018, stops in Santa Cruz on Day One and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.