The Human Cause

Raising awareness of HIV and AIDS one mile at a time.

Archive for the month “May, 2011”

Flying Solo vs. Being Alone

My love affair with cycling was rekindled in 1998 just as my 11-year relationship was ending. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, cycling saved my life. Unemployed at the time, I had lots of time to train during the week, but no one to ride with, so I spent many hours in the saddle flying solo. Over the next couple of years, I would do many things solo, some for the first time. It seemed odd to go to a movie or out for a nice dinner alone, but on my bike, those solitary miles felt natural – like I was at home. I had plenty of time to think; I had plenty to think about. One thing I didn’t think about was being vulnerable or less safe than when I was riding with a group. That all changed when a friend was killed on a bike, hit from behind by a car just a few minutes after leaving home on a ride she had done countless times.

Being off the bike for three months no doubt affected my psyche. It wasn’t just that I was in pain and concerned for my health, or that I was missing out on training and building relationships with me teammates. Looking ahead, I knew that once I did get back on the bike, the team training mileage would be so high there was no way I’d be able to ride with the group. Outside of those training for AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC), my other cycling buddies were training for the San Diego Century, so their mileage was also out of reach for me. Riding solo was the only way I was going to get in any training before the ride. I got some good advice from a couple of different veteran cyclists who ride long miles, much of their training done alone. With that and a heart grateful to be getting back on the bike, I took the proverbial leap of faith and never looked back – except to check traffic.

In mid-April, I took my first spin around Fiesta Island on a mellow Saturday evening. I figured this was a pretty safe place to be alone on my bike. Carol took Birdie to the dog park there and we made it a family outing. Next, a lunchtime ride around work on roads I know well. Then, my first ride on my new bike the afternoon of Easter Sunday. While the weather wasn’t much fun with a cold wind and a light drizzle, the streets were deserted making for another safe ride.

Del Mar

Stopping to smell the roses near the end of my first long ride.

Over the next couple of weeks, I was thrilled with the opportunity to ride with my friends and teammates, at least for some of the miles. One Saturday, I rode up the coast with ALC Team San Diego. Not more than a few miles out, the group was out of sight, but Brian, one of the training ride leaders (TRLs) who had planned to focus on his own training that day, stayed with me until I decided to turn around about 15 miles out. He helped me ride within myself – steady and strong but not too fast. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner that day and I appreciated that he gave me that time at the beginning of his training ride. The day was special, riding with the team and getting on my bike for a longer ride. I was so happy, I’m sure I had a smile on my face all the way back to the car. The next Saturday, I rode up the coast with the Trek group who was headed to San Clemente. I said farewell to them in Carlsbad and then again headed back to the car solo. The conditions were tougher that day with a strong crosswind and chilly temperatures, but I was pretty pleased with getting in another long ride. And on Wednesday following, I got out for my first Wednesday night ride of the season. I wasn’t yet climbing longer hills, so as everyone headed down Torrey Pines, I returned to the car on my own. Another satisfying ride, I was lucky to pedal some of those miles with Coach Darryl who has been helping me to get back on the bike since January.

With all of this solo riding, I was gaining confidence and once again enjoying my “alone time” on the road. Riding safely is always on my mind, but I began to realize that my fears about my safety while riding alone were staying in the back of my mind. I am a safe cyclist. I obey the rules of the road, pay close attention to my surroundings, avoid getting distracted, especially in tight situations, and work hard not to anger any driver. Still, just as with driving a car, you can be doing everything right and not avoid mishap. Life on a bike is still just life.

Taking the ferry from Coronado to San Diego after my ride with the team turned solo.

No matter my level of confidence or comfort in riding alone, I still prefer to ride with friends. For me, cycling is a social sport where I have forged many special, lasting friendships. One Saturday, I jumped at the chance to ride with the ALC folks again, but not long into the ride, it was clear that I couldn’t keep up. For all my training, I still wasn’t in good enough shape to hang with them, and what started out as a group ride became a solo ride by mile 10. Looking back, if I hadn’t put in all the solo miles to that point, I don’t know that I would have had the confidence to continue on my own. I knew Carol was available to pick me up at any point, but knowing what I was capable of, I chose to ride on. From the time we parted in the South Bay until I pulled into the driveway at home, I had logged 34 solitary miles, my longest solo stretch ever. Chilly, windy and damp, the physical challenge compounded the mental challenge. Yes, adversity builds character, and I did feel a huge accomplishment that day, but I was exhausted. The next day, I should have gone out for an easy spin of 15-20 miles but I just couldn’t. When Carol asked if I was going on a ride, I said no – I had left every last ounce of my mental toughness on the road the day before and I just couldn’t face riding alone again. Instead, I talked myself into getting out of the house to put in some time at the gym with a late afternoon spin and light weight training. That workout helped me not feel totally defeated – and my legs appreciated it!

Last weekend, I knew if I wanted to get any riding in, I’d be on my own. Everyone I knew was either participating in the San Diego Century or otherwise occupied. I mapped out a route that was mostly familiar to me, but that I had never done in it’s entirety: from my home in Allied Gardens to Cabrillo National Monument. It was about 36 miles with some climbing and as it turned out, it was the perfect ride for that day. The thermometer read 65 when I left the house around 7:30. It was a bit cool, but there was no wind as I headed west through Mission Valley. I fully expected the winds to appear up on Pt. Loma, but nothing there either (except the treat of seeing Carin and Tammy on their way down from the point as I was headed up). It was such a pleasant ride, I didn’t give much thought to being out there solo. Riding down my street, I could feel the warmth on my back as the sun started to break through the May gray. I was home, and once again feeling at home riding solo – not alone.

Like more than 16.6 million children world wide, HIV left these Cuban school boys orphaned.

I wrote earlier that riding alone leaves a lot of time for thinking. I reflected on the five years I spent single after my devastating break up in 1998. It took time, but I developed a rhythm living by myself, and like riding solo, really began to enjoy time on my own. Sure, I felt lonely on occasion, and during that time, I had one really bad case of the flu when I wish I’d had someone there, but I was never without family or friends; there was always someone who cared. HIV and AIDS have left many to die alone. Fraught with fear and ignorance, the early days of the AIDS crisis saw families, friends, entire communities abandon those infected and dying. Today, we know more about this disease, but the stigma alone continues to destroy lives. Regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, whether in the United States or somewhere in the developing world, lacking the knowledge or means to seek treatment can be a death sentence. An entire generation of children around the world is growing up without parents, some of them born with HIV. Who will care for them when they become ill? Who will hold them when they die?

None of us can predict how life as we know it will end. Like my friend on the bike, some of us will never see it coming. But more likely, in this day and age of medical miracles and ways to prolong life, most of us will see it coming, in the distance, the end of our natural lives coming into focus. If we’re lucky, we’ll have our friends and family with us until the end. Dying alone isn’t in anyone’s plan, but for some with HIV and AIDS, it is reality. My hope is that by raising awareness and funds through our participation in AIDS/LifeCycle, someone will get tested, someone will get treatment, someone will get counseling, someone will not have to face this disease – or death – alone. If just one person is helped, then every mile pedaled and every moment spent asking for support will have been a priceless investment in the human cause.


Red IS My Color – Red is the Color of Hope

It seems the entire month of April passed without a post – and now May is nearly over. This wasn’t a planned hiatus, but as life continuously reminds us, things don’t often go according to our plan. Needless to say, a lot has happened since March. Briefly and quickly, I turned a year older, we went on vacation experiencing our first cruise (much to my surprise, I was seasick), returned from vacation to start a new job while still doing my old job until my replacement started, finally got in to see a physical medicine specialist about my pain, went to L.A. for Carol’s Roadie training, filed a tax extension because the new IRS requirements for same-sex married couples in a community property state are complicated and lack supporting documentation, got to go to a Padres game, ate at a food truck for the very first time in support of Dining Out for Life, a fundraiser for The Center’s HIV and AIDS services here in San Diego, and pulled more weeds than I ever remember pulling – and there’s still more to be pulled – organic gardening trade off. It’s a busy life, but it’s a good life.

And, I got back on my bike for the first time in months. And then I got back on again. And again. I’m feeling good while riding with only the usual post-ride soreness. The aching and burning in my muscles that took me off my bike back in January have thankfully disappeared, slowly over time as was predicted by the physical medicine specialist. His diagnosis: muscle damage resulting from the statin drug I took to lower my cholesterol. He said it could take months to heal completely, and there could be permanent damage. I’m so thankful I had read the medication insert and was informed of all the possible side effects and stopped the medication just a few weeks into treatment. So far, it seems my muscles have recovered. I am all too familiar with the fatigue and soreness I am experiencing both during and after rides. This is what training feels like when one is not in shape and is pushing to improve. This hurt is good.

Headed out for a lunch ride.

After riding my old bike for a couple of weeks without any pain, I hopped on my new bike – the bike I bought back in January just as the pain from my muscle damage was peaking. This new bike is a sweet ride. A red and white Trek Pilot, she’s carbon fiber and three pounds lighter than my aluminum Cannondale. After one ride, I was hooked.

I do have to say I was at first reluctant about the color combination, though I was happy the white wasn’t around the drive train – white is sleek and pretty when clean, but doesn’t stay that way for long. But then there’s the red. You see, red has never been my color. When I was a kid, I was all about green or blue – never red. Like most kids growing up in the 1960s, I almost always had a bike, but never a new bike. We’d get our bikes at garage sales or the swap meet and they all seemed to be blue, usually messily painted a flat royal blue that only comes from a can of spray paint. One day my dad brought me home a white bike with pink trim. The tomboy in me was mortified. As soon as we could, we took that bike apart and painted it metallic gold. Instantly, I was one of the boys, out hopping curbs and exploring the open fields in my neighborhood that were quickly being gobbled up by apartment complex sprawl (eventually, I’d live in three out of four of those complexes built in the early 1970s). Painting that bike made it mine, and new or used, it was the coolest thing I had ever had.

My first love looked pretty much like this Le Mans.

Looking back now, I think I can actually credit that little bike with the love I have today for tinkering with my bike, cleaning it and doing some of my own maintenance. It wouldn’t be until I was fourteen and had earned enough money babysitting and mowing lawns that I would own my first new bike: a burgundy Centurion Le Mans for $149.99 plus tax, every penny I had. It came only in two colors, dark blue being the other and I was not buying a blue bike of any shade. That bike gave me freedom and continued my love affair with cycling adding the dimension of the open road. I could go so far and so fast on that bike – it was true love. Like most first loves, it would eventually be replaced, first by a moped and then a car, but I took it to college with me and reluctantly sold it only when I thought I had outgrown riding a bike. Silly me.

When I bought my Cannondale new in the summer of 1998, there was no choice in color. It was the end of the model year and I was buying the bottom of the line bike so it came only in white with black and yellow accents. I named that bike Stinger (see Mile(stones) for more on the name) and like that little gold bike from 30 years earlier, she was mine right from the start. I guess you could say she was my first grown-up love. Her colors became mine, and once adopted by Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong, white, black and yellow became trendy and I found a cool helmet to match. Together, Stinger and I have traveled enough miles to have made it across country and back – twice. That’s a lot of special memories. Letting go was hard.

I put off buying a new bike for a very long time, and had only started thinking seriously about it late last year. My plan was to do AIDS/LifeCycle on the Cannondale and retire her after one last, big event. She’s been a great bike, but like most anything else these days, bicycles have advanced by leaps and bounds due to the rapidly changing technology; she was obsolete before I even got her home in 1998. She had only eight gears in the back – the new models for 1999 were sporting nine, and just ten years later, eleven gears in the back would be introduced. My new ride is state of the art in every way and I feel it on every ride.

I didn’t really do much shopping for a bike, though I had a budget in mind and some specifics about frame material and component group. Then along came the Trek Pilot offered for a screaming deal that I couldn’t pass up. But red and white? Could I see myself on this bike? I pushed that aside and headed to the Trek store to check it out. Then, in the middle of my test ride, as I was looking down to check out the new gearing and different shifting, it dawned on me that red is the perfect color – it is the color that has come to symbolize the fight against HIV and AIDS, the color of the AIDS ribbon, the color of hope for finding a cure. At this point in time red is my color – red is the color of hope. And with that came her name: Hope.

An Indian couple walk past a 50 foot (15.24 meter) long AIDS red ribbon sand sculpture, created by Sudarshan Pattnaik on World AIDS Day in Puri, India, Monday, Dec.1, 2008. (AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout)

This journey with AIDS/LifeCycle hasn’t turned out the way I imagined it. I imagined months of training building relationships with my San Diego teammates as we became stronger riders. I imagined riding every mile from San Francisco to Los Angeles as my way of honoring all those touched by HIV and AIDS and as a thank you to those who supported us in every way imaginable. Then I was sidelined, and week after week, as what I had imagined was clearly not what was to be, I’d get stuck in my head and all caught up in my ego. And then something would remind me that the ride is not about me. I’d see a story on facebook or meet someone living with HIV for many years and I’d be brought back to why we are riding, why we are fundraising.

My sweet new “little red sports car” isn’t about me or my unique take on a mid-life crisis; it’s about the AIDS crisis. It’s about reminding people that HIV and AIDS continue to affect millions, and in affecting just one of us, it affects us all. As diverse as this big wide world of ours is, we all have one thing in common: we’re human. No matter who we are or where we come from, we all bleed red. The blood running through us is what ties us together as human beings. Through triumph and tragedy, joy and sorrow, we share this human experience. And therein lies the hope that we will come together to find a cure for HIV and bring an end to this crisis that I have known for all of my adult life, a crisis that has taken the lives of more than 25 million men, women and children from all over the world. A crisis that must come to an end.

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