Do you remember June 3rd, 2007?
I do. It was the first year I volunteered for the AIDS/LifeCycle. I stood in the parking lot on a chilly San Francisco morning and watched rider after rider kickoff for a 7 day, 545 mile trek over the hills and valleys of California to ride to LA. All this to raise money to support the fight against AIDS. I thought, “These people are nuts! 545 miles is SO FAR.” And I immediately put it on my bucket list.
Since then I have moved away from California, but I had never forgotten the “Ride to End AIDS“. So, this past June, 10 years from that fateful day, I got on my bike at the San Francisco Cow Palace and started pedaling down the Golden state to raise funds that support the life-saving services offered by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
This ride, and the journey up to it, changed me for the better.
It changed me physically
I trained for 8 months gradually adding mileage and hills to my riding regiment. I gained a lot of muscle, came to feel healthier than I’ve felt since my days as a kid, and I earned the most ridiculous tan line on my thighs you’ve ever seen. My bike shorts are about 3 or 4 inches longer than my normal shorts, so I’ve gotten to show off that tan line a lot!
I got stronger, I became faster and there were days where I felt like a well-oiled machine racing up steep hills (then stopping for pie afterward)!
It changed me mentally
There were so many good days! I saw beautiful scenery during the Winter, Spring and Summer. I came to appreciate how amazing a bit of shade feels from a passing cloud, and how refreshing a few drops of water from a rogue sprinkler feels on the hottest of days. These reminders helped revive my soul.
While riding my bicycle I got to see so much of my state that I would not have likely visited otherwise. Small towns, open fields and pastures. Places that cars see as a means to an end. But I got to really see these places, to smell the sweet scent of wildflowers on the breeze, and talk to dozens of cows as I coasted by. It was wonderful to let my mind quiet, to hear the gentle hum of my bicycle tire gliding across the road, and the birds chirping in the leaves overhead; a freedom that only two wheels can offer!
But there were long days too. Sometimes it would require a 1.5 hour drive to our training ride destination, 6 hours of active riding (like I said, I’m still not the fastest rider, but I keep moving!) plus more time for breaks and rest, plus another 1.5 hour car trip home. It was hard to get up at 4:30 in the morning for those training rides, but I had the support of my friends and loved ones so I got out of bed.
And there were hard days. When I first started riding again it was hard to sit on the saddle, because it is a hard saddle! And it was even harder to get back in the saddle the next day! Ouch Ouch Ouch! But the pain went away, and I got stronger.
But the hardest was my very last training weekend in May, 2 weeks before the big ride. I expected to ride at least 150 miles over Saturday and Sunday, one last training push before my bicycle was shipped to California. I had just come off a rest weekend and knew that if I could bust out this 80 and 70 mile day, I would be totally successful on those California hills! But it didn’t work out that way. Instead I eked out a mushy 40 miles that Saturday, and a painfully slow 30 miles on Sunday which felt even worse. I. Was. Devastated! I was supposed to be at my prime, but that was it, training was done. My confidence was absolutely shot. How was I possibly going to make it the 109 miles required on the Day 2 route?!
I got on the plane anyway. I went to California and I set my mind to do my best. I promised myself would go in my sous vide style: low and slow. After all, it’s a ride, not a race. And so I set off and kept pedaling, and pedaling, and pedaling. And I rode 109 miles on day 2!
The hard days have shown me how much I am capable of, even if it is a slow journey.
Most unexpected thing that happened: It changed my heart
The best part of my experience, over and over again I got to see the best of humanity. I was continually overwhelmed by the generosity of friends, family, and even strangers along the way.
People gave their support in so many ways: some were able to contribute to my fundraising goals, a few committed time and knowledge to help coach me, others volunteered to support training rides, and they were all joyous cheerleaders who encouraged me all through my training. There were even people came to cheer for all 2200 riders, every day, in big cities and in tiny towns during the AIDS/LifeCycle. People showed up with handmade signs, some waved and many yelled thank you for riding!
All of these people are the best of humanity. I feel so lucky and humbled to get to see these examples of people helping and supporting each other. We are all part of the AIDS/LifeCycle Love Bubble! And I can’t wait to do it all again in 2018!
Has riding changed you for the better? Share your story in the comments below!