AIDS/Lifecycle 6 (fixed gear) San Francisco to Los Angeles, CA | 3-9 June 2007
This was my fifth AIDS benefit bike tour, my fourth California ride. It was Lisa's first. A cycling landmark for both of us, having ridden all 7 days and our own total of 575 miles on fixed gears (which meant only one gear to push, uphill, downhill or on flat roads, with NO option to freewheel/coast at all from start to finish). We were lucky to have endured it with no real significant bodily issues resulting from the fixed gears per se. That is to say: no cramps, no stabbing joint pains, no bonks, no crashes and other misfortunes. No soreness at the end of the week, even. But it was hardly struggle-free.
Looking at the bigger picture though: How do you begin to explain an unbelievably diverse community of almost 3,000 -- people of all shapes, sizes, creeds, colors, beliefs, principles, habits, physical abilities, personalities, self-images, diets, sleep patterns, and even their fears and expectations -- traveling from place to place for 7 days and spending nights in a massive tent city with mobile facilities each night?
THEN... how do you begin to explain the realization against ordinary odds of that same community growing so close over seven short days that they behaved, emoted and reached out with palpable kindness -- as one -- to everybody they encountered? In the same jaded world from which all of us participants also came: no way to explain it, really. Not even with pictures and sounds.
Although Lisa and I each may have had contrasting expectations of the event, based on our previous experiences (or lack thereof), we both took one overriding impression away from it all: of feeling OVERWHELMED on so many levels.
The sheer mass of people we shared close quarters with on the roads we traveled and in our tent cities after each day of riding: overwhelming.
The energy, dedication and spirit with which each and every person on the event fulfilled their goals: overwhelming.
The daily fashion statements and costuming array: [almost] overwhelming.
The emotion displayed by people we've never met before, and in many cases whose names we may never know, who were profoundly touched by the products of our efforts, real or symbolic, for thousands of different reasons, no matter how insignificant we ourselves may have thought our own actions were: overwhelming.
The prevailing sense of goodness all around us: overwhelming.
MEASURES OF SUCCESS FROM ONE INCREDIBLE WEEK
2,333 cyclists (a 500+ increase, year over year), 466 splendid volunteer roadies who busted their asses to unspeakable degrees to make the 7-day journey the most superbly supported event ever conceived for such a large group of riders.
With this many people needing the same things, lines at rest stops for food, water, portapotties, showers at camp, dinner, and for various special camp services like medical, chiropractic and massage theraphy were simply unavoidable to all. Everybody may have had reasons to complain about one thing or another, or still dozens of other daily inconveniences. Remarkably, patience to deal with these -- and ultimately the general acceptance of them -- came as easily from most only because everybody there really was bound by common respect for the event's purpose and principles of volunteerism.
Mark Cloutier, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation's executive director, probably said it best during the event's closing ceremony that the community's greatest commonality was each individual's yearning to "extract every bit of good from within to change their imperfect world". And to think so many who perhaps had never experienced this event before, or those who thought they've seen and felt it all from having done it year after year after year were simply embarking on another bike trip. Oh what more did it ever turn out to be. Fantastically, a week-long culture of kindness that had farther reach than many imagined, including us.
A subtle personal example: when we checked into our Craftsman designer-conservationist hotel in Santa Monica after the whole thing was over (our self reward), the front desk and concierge learned of what we just did, and upgraded us to their best room (a top floor, 2 balcony corner suite with a bathroom twice the size of our bedroom at home). What an unexpected reward -- and what comfort we enjoyed after that whole week of "camping". Later we learned that one of the hotel's staff members has an aunt afflicted with AIDS.
Ultimately, for me, the lasting memories will be marked by the extraordinary people who were a part of this event. A gentleman from the Ivory Coast who seemed to be reconnoitering the operations of the event in order to organize a similar event IN the Ivory Coast (for which he already has major government representative support; best wishes to you, Bru). A woman who signed up to ride after her boyfriend drowned during a seizure episode, and she endured the challenge on the bike that he wanted to use for AIDS/Lifecycle which she dusted off from the corner of the house. The gentleman who signed up and bought a bike the DAY before the start of the event to honor his ex-boyfriend, who contracted HIV after their break-up. Countless riders participating in honor of brothers, sisters, friends and life partners whom they lost to AIDS. Mothers who lost their child... their children.
ALC6 EXPERIENCE: "UNWRITTEN" Directed/Produced by David Raybould for AIDS/Lifecycle
Then, on the flip-side, there's the amusement and pleasure of seeing riders and volunteers who tirelessly do their own hilarious thing to keep everybody's spirits sky-high. And -- mostly -- over 250 participants who are HIV-positive and courageous enough to publicly declare so, when just years ago their state of health meant a death sentence in BOTH the physical and social sense.
What powerful, powerful inspiration at every turn.
OH YES, WE DID RIDE BIKES EVERY DAY FOR A WEEK
Although diminished by the overall context of the event, the bike riding itself -- enjoyed/suffered by all in so many different ways -- was simply spectacular, and unspeakably rewarding to my bikey-bikey heart.
Day 1: San Francisco to Santa Cruz, 90 miles / +5,200' climb
Day 2: Santa Cruz to King City, 106 miles / +2,600' climb
Day 3: King City to Paso Robles, 79 miles / +2,200' climb
Day 4: Paso Robles to Santa Maria, 96 miles / +3,250' climb
Day 5: Santa Maria to Lompoc, 52 miles / +1,850' climb
Day 6: Lompoc to Ventura, 89 miles / +2,800' climb
Day 7: Ventura to Los Angeles, 62 miles / +1,400' climb
Days 1, 3, 4, and 5 had some notable grinds for climbs. The much fabled hill dubbed "Quadbuster" on Jolon Road outside Lockwood on Day 3 always manages to humble me, even if it's not that long nor steep of a climb -- just kind'a unrelenting. This time on the fixie was no different; in fact, I'd say I had a REALLY difficult time on the final third of it -- and photographic evidence will show I was clearly in agony. Lisa? Calm as a clam, smooth as a pro, adored by a fan at the summit who so kindly hailed, "That's just the most amazing thing I've ever seen". Or perhaps just a punctuation of having seen about 2,000 other riders -- smiling their cares away despite onset of cramps and fatigue. Pretty remarkable.
Days 1, 4, 5 and 6 had some doozey long descents, which are clearly enjoyable to anybody on a geared / freewheeled bike. But those 10 to 15 mile long descents were really torturous on the fixed gear bikes. So many people on the ride asked what it was like, which forced me to analyze it in order to put it into decipherable terms. And the best thing I could come up with was that it was an energy-use challenge oddly similar to when you're climbing, where you try and save as much energy to last a long ordeal. In the case of a fixie descent, smart play means taking it easier at the beginning so we save energy to keep the cadence super-high, even if we've been at it for over 20 minutes, in the case of 10+ mile long descents. After all, you really can't just quit pedaling when you're tired, so you'd better be in tune with your internal fuel gauge and lactic levels.
Speaking of descents, Lisa and I had our little personal-best contests with downhill speeds day by day. Lisa topped out at 32mph once on Day 4, which meant her legs were spinning at 168 RPM. I topped out at 34mph on the same day later in the route, but with a slightly larger gear drive equated to 165 RPM. Some riders who witnessed our furious descents were pretty complimentary; but most probably didn't understand -- even wondered out loud -- why we "had to" pedal when we were going downhill.
FAVORITE HIGHLIGHTS, SIGHTINGS AND ROADSIDE EXPERIENCES
DAY 1: fog free climb up Skyline Blvd in San Mateo County; a stop at the cafe in Davenport to have cuppa and oatmeal cookie so we could gloat to our friend back home about it -- the same venue at which a Harley rider struck animated/praiseful conversation with us about the ride and our fixies; a detour to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, where we chatted at length with the volunteer rangers who were pretty moved by the event.
DAY 2: furious tailwind most of the way; Monday morning rush hour in Santa Cruz + 2,300 riders on the road = 3 hours to travel first 24 miles; fried artichokes in Castroville; first hookup with the East Coast younglings on singlespeed freewheel bikes -- really nice kids; sobering (as it always is) visit to the Soledad Mission, which was the same venue for the highly contrasting, super raucous Otter Pop Stop gang; skinny dipping (oh yes we did!) in the Arroyo Seco river on the Monterey/King County line; Cookie Lady (a local who baked over 3,000 cookies for the riders and handed them out that the top of the last hill); stupid strong winds at camp.
DAY 3: really mild day making for the lowest temps ever registered during the event in the Lockwood Valley for the big climb of the day; town of Bradley's population swells from 100 to roughly 2,700 and earns major bucks for school through now-traditional burger lunch fundraiser (hence the symbiotic relationship between the town and AIDS/Lifecycle); riding on the nasty nasty shoulder of the 101; punishing headwinds in finishing miles to Paso Robles.
DAY 4: reaching the halfway point of the ride and simultaneously being presented with a stunning view of the ocean not seen since Day 1; Pismo Beach -- 'nuff said; ridiculous cross winds between Oceano and Guadalupe that flipped out a lot of riders (even the Starkeys said it was an ordeal on the motos); spa-themed Rest Stop 4 (whose crew do up their thing every day, every year) with giveaway moisturizer, truffles and rubdowns... decadent; HI-LA-RIOUS spontaneous bike dismount contest (a la American Idol) at the finish in Santa Maria; stupid strong winds at camp, the sequel.
DAY 5: hookup with other fixie riders (there were 2 others, and 3 others riding singlespeed freewheel); Red Dress Day off the hook; a guy I know -- a Kaiser physician -- took top dress prize in my book for wearing beyond-racey red dominatrix outfit with 7 inch platform heels... with clipless pedal cleats attached (and should anyone ever have doubted the usefulness of such a get-up on a bike, he still passed riders on the climbs); dance party in the tiny farm hamlet of Casmalia -- what must those people EVER think of people on this ride?; couple of guys serenading Lisa on the Vandenberg grade with the Rocky theme -- in harmony; satellite delivery rocket launch out of Vandenberg AFB; rider/roadie talent show that ran over 1 hour too long (those poor late performers)
DAY 6: Epic descent through canyons of Gaviota; oceanside riding nearly all the way; fantabulous community-sponsored "Paradise Pit" unofficial rest stop in Santa Barbara with donated ice cream, homemade cookies, massage teams; a detour to a Parrot aviary and refuge in Carpinteria; a breathtaking candlelight vigil with over 3,000 flames on Ventura State Beach; last night at camp: bittersweet for some, but most rejoice
DAY 7: back to the crazy long lines for food, water and portapotties at the rest stops, so Lisa and I blow all the rest stops until we get into LA proper; reward of Krispy Kreme donut atop the last significant climb; dramatic, highly applauded finish at the VA Hospital Center in Brentwood.
LIFE ON THE ROAD... AND AT 'CAMP'
Mornings were generally damp and cold, in the mid to high 40s. Midday highs were mostly in the 70s and occasionally crept past 80F. Lisa and I were late starters everyday by comparison. Most people at camp started stirring at around 4:30, some as early as 4AM, and many were out the gates by 7AM. It was a royal struggle for me to get moving in the morning, and we seemed to routinely get out of camp at around 8AM. As the week progressed, Lisa seemed to get up earlier each morning; me, later and later.
"Camp" was not your picturesque, quiet and remote locale with infinite real estate around your foldable domicile; not your Grand Canyon, not your Appalachian Trail, not your riverside berm. Here, we cohabitated in a massive tent city built for a travelling posse of 3,000, usually within large city parks, with event-issue 8x8 tents tightly arranged on a grid like houses in new suburban tract home developments. For comforts, mobile showers inside semi-truck containers with an abundant supply of hot water, mobile kitchens (again, in semi containers) producing copious amounts of breakfast and dinner for all, served in outdoor dining halls underneath two enormous canopies in all but one camp site.
On the perimeter: a huge security-guarded area for a sea of parked bikes on collapsible/transportable racks, enclosed tent buildings for medical, sports med, chiropractic, massage therapy, and general information services, as well as a meditation area, conference room and designated spaces for the title sponsor and media relations.
Lisa and I faithfully donned jerseys that I designed to raise awareness of the ONE Campaign every day during the ride, and I was happy to have entertained the curiosity and inquiry from so many people both on and off the ride throughout the week, many genuinely thankful for the information. Even regional field reps of the ONE organization who witnessed us at the closing ceremonies noticed, found a way to reach us after the event, and invited us to report our efforts and introduce AIDS/Lifecycle to the national ONE organization (read the blog entry). I'm really pleased.
During the event, we were frequently greeted by fellow cyclists, by-standers, visitors at camp and others: "What's One?" Which we happily returned each time with an abstracted reply describing the efforts of the campaign to eliminate global poverty and the AIDS epidemic closely associated with it in the world's poorest nations.
Others more attuned to the fact that we were riding single-speed, fixed gear bikes thought that "ONE" was simply a reference to our bikes, which we thought was a neat coincidence (by partial design). People would say, "Oh I get it... ONE gear!" And we'd say, "No, actually...." [insert elevator speech]. As the week progressed, I think we earned more recognition because of both the attire and the bikes. One fed the other, and vice versa. "Those ONE guys... on the fixies". It was rewarding to know the fixie stunt did well to fuel our awareness campaign -- I had hoped it would.
Another effect of the jersey design that I totally didn't expect at all (silly, how soon I forget the audience) was inspiration it sparked in so many to break ice with us in playful song or cheer when we crossed paths on the route:
"ONE... singular sensation, every little step he takes. ONE... thrilling combination, every move that he makes...."
"ONE love... ONE heart... Let's get together and feel all right....."
"ONE and ONE makes two!!"
"Still the ONE!" (Eek, this Shania Twain thing made my skin crawl though)
"Shouldn't you be TWO?" (*Sigh* Oh, dear -- what do you do with that one?)
"Yyyeeeaah!! Number ONE!!!!"
Oddly, nobody ever sung or hummed the U2 song after which the campaign name was mostly derived.
WTF?? NO CAMERA???
Save your complaints! With an absolutely hairy day and evening before we started the ride (thanks to complete work chaos that put off my packing plans till around 11PM), I had only 2.5 hours to sleep before the first and hardest day of riding, much less time to find my effing camera and charge it's batteries, so I said screw it. They'll be umpteen-THOUSAND people taking pictures, and all that stuff's gonna be on Flickr soon enough. Was I right? Or was I right? (And, yes, I'll admit I regretted a few occasions to capture images my own way -- but, you know, I love seeing this event through everybody else's eyes too).
FLICKR PICTURE ROLL
basically a show of anything tagged 'aidslifecycle' in 2007 - NOT my photos
(I don't take responsibility for scandalous material... but do enjoy it anyway!)
Tip: slideshow controls at the top of the frame, thumbnails on the bottom. Mouse over to reveal!
TO CONCLUDE... RELUCTANTLY
Nearly 3,000 participants. Thousands of witnesses and supporters along the way. Many remarkable people we shared the joys of the open road with, shared laughs, tears, frustrations and celebrations. Thousands more bits of stories to collect and to tell that are so much more meaningful than my own: all so worth listening to and retelling.
TOTAL FUNDS RAISED BY TEAM ONE = $6,984.00
SINCERE THANKS TO ALL OUR DISTINGUISHED SPONSORS:
Kazan McClain Abrams Lyons Farrise & Greenwood Foundation, Ariston Estrada Jr., Ofie Jacomina, Jesse Smith, Quackcyclists, Susan Bump, Clay Bowling, James Buckingham, Charleston Cone, Karen & Michael Fee, Dana Habegger, Lorri Lee Lown / Velo Girls, Marc & Audrey Waidelich, Matt Masters, Seth Ammerman & Helen Martin, David Bornstein, Charles Jonas, Dave Heneghan, Terri Hodges, Janice & Paul Lowe, Randy & Suzanne Barber, Patrick Ciccarelli & Julia Lathrop, Kate Pixley, Pamela Riley, Jeff Sobul, Jadene Wong, Scott Searles, Catie Boles, Lisa Chamberlain, Richard Davis
Additional support from: Tara Runyan, Lisa Duerre, and Synopsys Inc.