Backing Down, Gearing Up – Breaking Down, Tearing Up
I can’t believe it’s been a year since we were at this place, backing down our training mileage, gearing up with all we’ll need to make it through seven days outdoors far from the creature comforts of home, making our final fundraising requests in hopes of raising a few more dollars in the fight to end HIV and AIDS. Some of us have started packing, others are shopping for those last-minute items, and others still do not get that in just 12 days, we ride. It will be here in the blink of an eye, these last few days rushing past in a blur like the days, weeks and months of this past year. Where does the time go?
As we get closer to the event and each member of our team comes to terms with why they committed to ride and all that it’s taken to get to this point, our hearts open and we touch those wounded, grief-filled places inside, and for better or for worse, sometimes this happens in the middle of a training ride. In my role as a Training Ride Leader, I look at anything that happens on a training ride as a “dry run” for the big ride, whether it’s a flat tire, road construction, a detour, bonking from not enough food or tearing up in a moment when all of what you’ve been through on this journey comes crashing in and you have no place to hide because you are on a busy street pedaling in traffic and you have to stay tuned in to what’s around you. Those of us who have done the ride know we will all have our tender, raw moments. The more emotional of us may experience tears several times throughout each day (yes, that would be me) and some who don’t see themselves as emotional may find themselves stopped on the side of the road, breaking down and sobbing without warning – or explanation.
Last year, my breakdown came as we rode across the red-ribbon covered bridge into the small town of Bradley (population 120) where the school puts on a BBQ fundraiser for their extracurricular school activities. Rounding the corner I saw a school bus decorated with brightly painted signs to welcome the riders into town. In that moment, I was angry that we are still fighting this disease and appalled that our children are growing up in a world that looks the other way at a disease that continues to take the lives of men, women and children in our own communities and all over the world. I leaned my bike against the back of the bus and walked to the other end for some privacy, sat down and sobbed.
This past Sunday driving to the site of our training ride, I was thinking about the heroes in my life, the people who fight for what’s right even when they are waging battles of their own. One friend who has been undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer the last several months came to mind. An educator, mentor, husband, father, dedicated son and friend to everyone, he is there whenever you call, even through a frightening, life-threatening illness. He supported our participation in AIDS/LifeCycle last year with two separate donations. I certainly didn’t expect he would be in a place to support us again this year, but through all his battles, he tells me I’m his inspiration and he gives yet again. He is my hero and my inspiration and he brought me to tears on my drive on Sunday morning and even now again as I am writing this.
Sunday’s ride was a flat, easy recovery ride around the bay and out to Sunset Cliffs. Our team had ridden 96-100 miles the day before and it was time to just relax and spin out the legs. For some of us though, it turned out to be quite the emotional workout as we struggled with our own feelings and life situations that day. Talking with a few of my teammates made it apparent we were all in that place of looking at the ride and how it seems to permeate every aspect of our lives from the day-to-day rhythm of things to the grief we may feel about losses not even remotely related to HIV or AIDS. We took a little bit of extra time at the turnaround point on Sunset Cliffs, took a few deep breaths and then got together for a photo.
I felt a sense of cleansing and relief in that shared moment and hopped back on my bike for the return. Not even five minutes later I was reminded the tears are never behind me. Pedaling down Sunset Cliffs Blvd. on our way out of Ocean Beach, Carin and I were having a seemingly simple conversation about what jerseys we will wear each day on ALC. The jersey she is wearing in the photo above is from last year and has the names of donors and those living with HIV or lost to AIDS. I have a similar Team in Training jersey that bears the names of souls lost to cancer, most are friends and family I have lost, but Carin’s dear friend, Devorah, is also remembered there. As soon as we started talking about that jersey, we both broke into tears and then I started a heavy cry. She asked if I wanted to stop and I said no. I got it back together almost as quickly as it came on, but there it was. And there it will be for some time, preparing to leave for the ride, arriving in San Francisco into the community of compassion and hope that will hold me and my extended family for seven days and will continue to sustain us during the letdown in the days and weeks following the event. We are full of grief and hope, anger and determination, but most of all, we are love. And we will triumph over this human disease.