There is such richness in the AIDS/LifeCycle experience, I expect each veteran could fill a good-sized book with our observations and experiences living for seven days in this amazing community. We ride through some of the most beautiful country on the planet, unprotected from the elements, unsheltered from the people we pass on the side of the road. Traveling by bicycle slows everything down, brings sights, sounds and smells up close and personal. So much happens in the course of a day on the ride, so much to see and do, so many emotions and a diversity of people and experiences, there is never a dull moment. And there is magic in getting to your destination under your own power. We climb the hills, fight the wind, endure rain and cold, survive heat and bugs and navigate some pretty treacherous traffic conditions all without propulsion or protection. And apparently, all the while, we do it with a smile.
On our way into lunch in Santa Barbara on Day 6, we were riding on a fairly busy street through a mix of commercial and residential areas. The bicycle traffic was pretty spread out, but there were a few riders just ahead of me and a couple behind. It was a spectacular day, arguably the best weather of any day on the ride. We’d had sun from the time we left camp and only a light breeze on the coast in contrast to the winds we had battled since Day 1. On this day, the skies stayed clear into the night and we could see the stars from the beach during the candlelight vigil. Feeling spunky, making good time, we were on a slight downhill passing through one stretch of homes. A few folks were out on the street waving and cheering. Then we approached a woman who seemed upon us by chance, purse hanging on her arm, car keys in hand as if she were headed to or from her car. She watched us ride on, one by one, and a smile came across her face. As we passed she exclaimed, “You’re All So Happy!”
This ride brings with it adversity from every direction. From losing power at our hotel on the night before the ride to the Day 2 rain-drenched closing of the route and stranding of more than a thousand people to the inability to get my feet unclipped from my pedals on that day (I could write an entire post on that scary incident), we face a multitude of challenges from the day we sign on to do this ride. As in life, we don’t get to choose the circumstances we are handed, but we always get to choose how we respond to challenges. After my second year participating in this incredibly human event, I was reminded again and again that this community is filled with amazingly giving and loving people all coming together for a common cause. Some have lost hundreds of friends, entire communities to AIDS; others like me have not been directly affected but now are touched by association and by all those we have met who have experienced loss or are living with the disease. The grief runs deep and wide, sometimes coming in soft ripples and other times in crashing waves. It is the sharing of this grief, the sadness, the anger and defiance, that brings us together and helps us hang on to what is good in life, that which can be celebrated and hoped for.
So yes, when life interrupts your ride with a downpour, you find cover, move the coldest folks to the center of the huddle, build a community among strangers and shiver through wide smiles! And when gifted with mylar blankets and garbage bags, this community that is built on a foundation of grief and persists on a platform of hope turns Day 2 into Silver Dress and Black Bag Day and struts its stuff with a fabulous impromptu fashion show entertaining the hundreds who waited patiently for transportation knowing many others were stuck out on the road in blustery wind and driving rain. We rose to this occasion bringing out the best in each other just as we have for decades in our fight for visibility, equality and an end to HIV and AIDS. Yes, there’s still lots of work to do, but we’ll whistle while we work – we are ALL so happy!