The Human Cause

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

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

“You’re All So Happy!”

There is such richness in the AIDS/LifeCycle experience, I expect each veteranĀ 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.

Suzi, Sean, Doug and Carin warmly wrapped in mylar and smiles.

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!

AIDS/LifeCycle 2013 – I’m Riding for Michael

Riding through San Mateo on a beautiful morning on Day 1 of AIDS/LifeCycle, a man was standing at the side of the road holding up a picture and calling out, “This is my brother Michael and you are riding for him.” I hadn’t taken the time last year to stop and talk to anyone holding up signs of thanks or pictures of loved ones, but fellow riders who had said it was one of the best things they did on the ride. I decided now was as good a time as any and pulled to the side of the road. As we talked, he continued to call out to other riders. He shared with me that his brother had died 22 years and a week ago from AIDS. I asked him where Michael had lived when he died and he said right there in San Mateo. He had such joy as he spoke of the memories of his brother, yet his grief was still palpable after all these years. We shared a hug and he thanked me for riding. I thanked him for being there and I went on my way.

I haven’t lost a sibling or parent or spouse. I expect it is something you never truly get over, but with HIV and AIDS, so many have died in shame and silence, suffering alone and being disowned and abandoned by family and friends. Throughout the week, I was touched time and again by the loss of so many. The grief in this community hangs like a heavy fog, lifting now and then through our shared joy and laughter in the life we are each blessed to be living and the hope that some day we will come together to ride for fun rather than to wage war on this pandemic. Still, the fog is ever looming.

Carol and I were pretty sure ALC 2012 would be our last for a few years. But we are not done. If we do not participate, someone will not get the medication they need to live with this disease, someone will not get the information they need to prevent contracting or spreading this disease, someone will not get the support they need to face this disease and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center and San Francisco AIDS Foundation will not get the research funds they need to find a cure for this disease. We cannot be done.

We are AIDS/LifeCycle 2013 Rider 1609 and Roadie 8113 continuing the fight to save lives on the Ride to end AIDS.

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