The Human Cause

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

Leap Forward – It’s Time to Eat, Rest, Ride

It’s been several months since I’ve written an update to this blog. What can I say? Life happens. I could list all the things that have kept me from writing, all the ways I struggle to say what I want to say without writing my own little novella each time I put my fingers on the keys, but in keeping with my new approach to blogging, I’ll cut to the chase – and I’ll try to keep it brief.

It is Leap Day, and I find myself on the eve of the month of March which holds so much for me. First, it is my birth month, and in keeping with the tradition introduced to me by my dear friend, Claire, I intend to celebrate for the entire month. And it is the month we get back some hours of daylight. For a cyclist, that means more hours to be out on the road, especially on the weeknights after work. More reason to celebrate. And then there is the coming of spring. Who doesn’t like spring? It is my favorite season bringing with it what I love most about San Diego weather: sunny and 70s. We haven’t had much rain this year, but because the usual winter cloud cover has been absent, we’ve had colder days and nights. It’s been the chilliest winter on the bike that I can remember. Jackets, full-fingered gloves and arm/leg warmers have been put to good use on almost every ride the past few months. I’ll keep them in my gear bag for another couple of months, but soon, they will hibernate until fall. Yet another reason to celebrate.

Indeed, March is marvelous month – always. This year, though, the best thing about March is I am actually able to ride. Last year, I was still recovering from muscle damage resulting from a statin drug I was taking to lower my cholesterol. It was a difficult time. I wasn’t able to be out with my team getting ready for the biggest ride of our lives and I was hurting. At that time, I didn’t even know if I would be able to do the ride at all. This year is different. Our training for AIDS/LifeCycle has started and we have been building mileage slowly for the last six weeks. I’m excited to meet new riders almost every week and I’m really enjoying my role as a Training Ride Leader. My body is feeling good and I’m finding my rhythm, becoming accustomed once again to the ritual of packing for a ride, leaving a warm bed in the wee hours of the morning, eating a bigger breakfast than I do any other day of the week, coming home to refuel and rest before getting on with the day and then preparing to do it all again the next day. Eat. Rest. Ride. Repeat.

Yes, cycling season is in full swing, and by the time the ride rolls around in June, this will all seem so routine. That is why we train. It’s not just about getting our bodies ready for 545 miles. It’s about getting our heads around doing it day after day for seven days, when we are tired and sore, cold and wet, and emotionally spent from the highs and lows of the event itself. It’s about being ready for anything that might get in the way of making a difference, of saving lives, of getting it done on the Ride to End AIDS.


Planting Seeds – Never Know WHAT You Sow

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Team ReaganHarlow doing the work closest to our hearts: bringing an end to HIV and AIDS. Last Sunday, we put in a full day’s work running volunteer transportation for AIDS Walk San Diego. Carol has been volunteering for San Diego’s largest HIV/AIDS fundraising event since 1995, the year following the death of her dear friend, Scott. For her, this event involves months of planning, meetings, and then the whole weekend to get her area and team together to pull off this huge event. Her dedication to this event, in memory of Scott, and now in honor of those we’ve met this last year, is immeasurable, inspiring and truthfully where I found the courage and resolve to sign on for AIDS/LifeCycle last year. Sure, we come home exhausted from a 12-hour day that starts at 3 am, and each year it takes us just a little longer to recover (I think it was Wednesday this week when I felt my usual bright-eyed self), but we know we are making a difference in the lives of our fellow San Diegans living with this disease.

Sunday two weeks ago, I had the privilege of planning and leading my first ride as a Training Ride Leader (TRL) for next year’s AIDS/LifeCycle 11 (ALC). It was exactly one year to the day since I had gone on my first training ride. One year since seeds were planted, relationships were born and life was forever changed. Within a few days of that first ride, Carol and I committed to AIDS/LifeCycle 10 – to making a difference in the fight against HIV and AIDS beyond our own community. We knew we were signing on for something big, but it was impossible to know how our involvement in the ride would change us, or who would come into our lives because we made that decision. For me, the opportunity to be a TRL brings things full circle; I’ll be giving back in the same ways I was given to by the TRLs and other experienced riders I came to know last year. I couldn’t have done the training or the ride itself without therm. Leading my first ride on the one-year of anniversary of being brought into the ALC family couldn’t have been more appropriate.

Excited to begin sharing my knowledge and experience with this year’s riders, I planned a ride around San Diego Bay, starting with a trip to Coronado on the ferry. San Diego is my hometown. My parents’ families came to San Diego with the United States Navy before World War II. My grandfathers worked in the shipyards in south bay. When I began riding in 1998, my bike took me to parts of the county that I had never visited, and I began to see parts of our beautiful city already familiar to me as I had never seen them before. I planned this ride around San Diego Bay in hopes of sharing that wonder and beauty with my teammates.

It was a gray, chilly morning when we met at Tuna Harbor just south of the USS Midway Museum. Nine riders came out for the ride, and Carol came along to provide support  (i.e., smiles, YooHoo and Red Vines) for our 24-mile journey. Three of the riders I had never met; one of them was coming for his very first training ride.

We took the ferry across the bay and rode down the Silver Strand toward Imperial Beach. More than half of the 24 miles of the Bayshore Bikeway consists of dedicated bike trails. Without much stopping and starting, our group stayed pretty much together for the first half of the ride. By the time we met Carol near the Chula Vista harbor, the sun was shining and the gray had given way to vibrant blue skies. Our rockin’ Roadie Carol sure knows how to put out a spread at a rest stop! We mingled a bit, enjoying our treats, filling up with water and stretching our bodies, but soon we were back on our bikes.

We’d had the wind at our backs for the first part of the ride, but heading back toward the city, the wind was hitting us square in the face. Soon there were gaps between all of the riders and I found myself at the back with our first-time rider. He was tired, but still pedaling strong. There are times on a bike when you ask for a red light so you can grab a drink and an ever-so-brief rest. The wind was making it one of those times. As we got closer to Tuna Harbor, we seemed to hit every light. At one of the lights, he thanked me for sticking with him and told me this was the longest ride he had ever done. I told him great job and that he’d get stronger with each ride. We gathered back at Tuna Harbor to say our goodbyes. For another of our new riders it was also her longest ride ever. It had been a successful ride with no safety issues or mechanical failures (NO flats) on a simply gorgeous day with a great group of people training for the Ride to End AIDS. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Ride Around San Diego Bay - AIDS/LifeCycle Team San Diego

Looking back on the day and all that happened in the year since we committed to doing the ride, it struck me that we never really know how making a decision will change our life. Not a simple decision like what to wear or which movie to watch, but a decision to step way out of our comfort zone, to reach for the impossible, push ourselves beyond our limits, ask for support – over and over and over again. And we surely don’t know who we touch along the way. For better or for worse, Facebook has changed the way we connect and share information. You put yourself out there; you don’t know what seeds you are sowing. You reconnect with friends from high school, and one of them shares that they lost their father to AIDS not long after we graduated from high school. Or you write a blog post and months later someone tells you something you wrote about your own struggles and fears touched them, kept them going, helped them get beyond their fear. You never know.

As we left the ferry in Coronado on that gray, chilly morning, serendipity graced me with another full circle moment. Standing in line waiting to board the ferry back to San Diego was my Team in Training coach from my first cycling program with the Leukemia Society in 1998. The coach who taught me almost everything that is the foundation of my cycling. The coach who showed me that when climbing hills, whether on the bike or in life, you have to sit up, hold your head high, breathe deeply, loosen your grip, start slow, and save some for the top. The coach who helped me see through our shared experience of loss of love that we could live and love again. The coach who could not have known when he made the decision to be coach for that season – to teach others how to ride while saving lives – that 13 years later, his hand would be on my shoulder as I reached out and put my hand on the shoulder of new riders committed to saving lives. You just don’t know.

Never doubt that what seems like a simple choice between do it or don’t has an impact. On you. On others. On your community. On the world.

Do You Believe in Gay Marriage?

You know the scene: you’re on your way into a store, pressed for time (when are we ever not pressed for time these days?), and a very enthusiastic young man approaches you, clipboard in hand, and asks, “Do you believe in gay marriage?” I cringe because I want him to ask if I believe in marriage equality, not “gay” marriage. All marriages should be loving, nurturing, fulfilling – and gay, right? I wonder if his choice of words makes those who are opposed dig their heels in further and puts those not decided in a “gay” frame of mind rather than an “equality” frame of mind. Language is powerful. Is the power in his language helping or hurting the fight for marriage equality, for equal rights? Instead of stopping to tell him how I feel, I say, “Yes, I do. I am in a same-sex marriage.” I flash my wedding ring and a big smile. I tell him I have signed everything I can sign, thank him for his work and rush along – because I am pressed for time.

Just married!!!

This week, Carol and I celebrate eight wondrous years together. In 2008 on the fifth anniversary of the day we originally exchanged our rings, we went alone to City Hall, and without much celebration, legally married in the State of California. We did not have a ceremony or a party; we were cautious due to the possible passage of Prop. 8 and didn’t want to celebrate until we were knew the right to marry would not be denied by our fellow citizens. We all know how that turned out. Now jokingly but with an underlying sadness, we refer to ourselves as “outlaws.” Yes, our marriage is still recognized, but we could not marry again if we wanted to, our friends in same-sex relationships cannot marry. We do not enjoy the federal tax benefits or other legal protections of marriage. Still, we are second-class citizens.

On Sunday, the State of New York legally recognized the unions of hundreds of same-sex couples. Photos from celebrations across the state embody the very essence of “a picture paints a thousand words.” Women and men, varied ages, different races, shapes, sizes, abilities – and fashion sense – are represented here. How many years have some of these couples waited? How much discrimination have they endured, on many different fronts? How can my fellow citizens (who are afforded all the fundamental liberties of being an American) who voted against my right to marry, my right to live out the same dreams they have, my right to love and be loved, not see this as the America we all long for? How does my joy, my happiness, my being recognized as your equal hurt society? How does it threaten you, your family, your marriage, your children, your morals, your beliefs?

I know most of my friends and family are on the side of marriage equality so most who read this need no convincing. But if you or anyone you know is on the fence about this issue, or is completely convinced marriage equality is wrong, I throw out a challenge to sit with these photos. Look at them for a moment. Look as if it were your parents’ wedding. As if it were the joy of your daughter or son, the celebration of your best friends, or even your own. Ask what any human being gains in denying rights and love and joy to another human being. If you know Carol and me, you know our marriage is “gay” – that our love lifts the world. How does that not better the human cause?

April in Paris - the city of love.

Chicken Lady – An AIDS/LifeCycle Icon

At this year’s AIDS/LifeCycle, Ken “Chicken Lady” Thomason participated in his 15th ride in California to raise funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS. He was visible every day in camp and on the ride. Always with a smile, lots of laughter and an unmatched joie de vivre, he was a pleasure to be around; it was a gift to be in his presence. In this video interview filmed at the rest stop following “Quadbuster” on Day 3 of the ride, Ken tells why he does ALC and how he came to don a chicken and become Chicken Lady.

The final morning of the ride, the wet, gray weather was heavy in the air as we emerged from our tents one last time. Our dampened spirits were lifted as we arrived in bike parking to find a special treat from Chicken Lady. Through the dark and dense mist, you could see little neon-bright plastic chicken eggs perched on bike seats, tucked between seats and seat bags. Inside a message of inspiration and congratulations, and a little treat for later in the ride. Take a look:

A little Day 7 inspiration hatched courtesy of Chicken Lady.

I continue to struggle with returning to life outside of the ALC community, and trying to articulate what ALC is all about to those who have not experienced its power is impossible. I’ve started several blog posts in attempt to recount each day’s life on the ride, but that approach has been futile. Instead, it feels better to revisit a memory, allow it to wash over me and then find the words and pictures to share. I am thankful to have such rich memories of a lifetime. In sharing, I hope to inspire someone to take action, if not in the fight against HIV and AIDS, then in some other worthwhile way to better the human cause.

A Community of Heroes

“It is not every day that you meet a true hero. It’s certainly not every day that you meet an entire community of heroes.” – Michael Barron, Director of AIDS/LifeCycle at the Closing Ceremonies.

Tattered and soiled, the message is still the same.

I was graced with the opportunity to spend eight days with this incredible community of heroes – 576 Roadies and 2361 Riders. The love and energy I experienced this past week buoyed my hopes for finding a cure, preventing new infections and making the world a better place for every human being.

It was apparent from Day 0, Orientation Day, that this community was special. We had heard about the energy, the love, the kindness, the inexplicable feeling of being a part of something this beautiful, but it wasn’t until we arrived at the Cow Palace in San Francisco that I started to feel it pulsing through my veins. Each of us was required to attend a safety video before we could pick up our packets. As we sat down, we were asked to turn off our cell phones and give our undivided attention to the most important aspect of the ride: safety. And everyone did. Five minutes in, I was amazed that I could hear a pin drop; thirty minutes in, still, we were all riveted to the information being presented. No one was looking at their cell phones, there were no side conversations going on. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt like everyone in a room (including me) was actually engaged, present in the moment. It reminded me to slow down, look around and take it all in. This whole experience, we’re told, would be over in the blink of an eye and I didn’t want to miss a thing.

My intention going in to the ride was to post regular updates to facebook, but between all that was happening every day and limited access to charging our phones, I found it difficult to keep up. The time I could find to post was usually at the end of the day, as we were settling in, and I usually chose sleep over posting. Over the next few days, I’ll be blogging about some of my experiences on the road, on the SAG buses, in camp, at the rest stops and meeting extraordinary people from all over. There is no way to replay the entire experience, either in my head or here on this blog, but I’ll share some of my memories, and you’ll get a sense of just how special “special” really is.

With riders of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities on this ride, there is a constant flow of passing riders, going up hills and down, and on the flats. For both safety and courtesy, a passing rider calls out “on your left.” The passed rider says “thank you” to acknowledge they are being passed. I was passed a lot on the ride. A lot. I’m sure those passing got just as tired of saying they were passing as I did acknowledging them. I joked at one point I should invent a detector that would say it for me as a rider passed. But then each time I said “thank you” I began to feel gratitude. Gratitude for just being out there; gratitude for having the health and financial means to commit to making a difference; gratitude for sharing the experience with Carol, Carin and Tammy; gratitude for Team San Diego; gratitude for making cherished new friends in Nicole and Lish; gratitude for the guys who hauled our gear; gratitude for everything – even the stuff that was difficult day in and day out; gratitude for the community of heroes I was now a part of.

So for now, go ahead and pass me on the left. I’ll shout out a big, heartfelt “thank you” and we’ll catch up on this blog at the next rest stop.

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.

How I Will Remember Elizabeth Taylor

The world mourns the loss of a movie legend, an icon. Unlike my parents’ generation, I did not grow up watching Elizabeth Taylor on the big screen. I wasn’t yet born when she blossomed into a superstar on and off screen during Hollywood’s Golden Age. I have seen only a few of her movies and know little detail of her many romances other than she was married multiple times. Her brief appearance on General Hospital was big news just as I began my freshman year in college in 1981 (the same year AIDS was officially recognized by the CDC). And at that time, I remember the publicity surrounding her as more the price she paid for her fame, her life splashed across the tabloids at every grocery store checkstand. I would just look away, my heart uncomfortable with such ugliness.

More than a movie star, Elizabeth Taylor brought power and grace to the fight against HIV and AIDS in the early 1980s. She was among the first to take a stand in a climate wrought with fear and hostility. When asked about her decision to become involved, she responded, “Well, I kept seeing all these news reports on this new disease and kept asking myself why no one was doing anything. And then I realized I was just like them. I wasn’t doing anything to help.” No doubt her involvement changed the course of battle against HIV and AIDS forever. Here is a brief overview of her work as appears on her foundation’s website:

  • Miss Taylor’s work began with fundraising for an AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) dinner, the first major AIDS benefit ever held.  This support marked the debut of her public commitment to raising funds and awareness for AIDS.
  • In 1985, she joined with Dr. Mathilde Krim and a small group of physicians and scientists to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). As amfAR’s Founding National Chairman, she used her celebrity to take the issue of HIV/AIDS to the mainstream media.
  • Miss Taylor became a potent force in mobilizing the entertainment, arts and fashion communities to step up their initiatives in connection with AIDS, traveling extensively to speak at conferences, concert venues and benefit events around the globe. She testified before Congress to ensure Senate support for the Ryan White CARE Act, spoke before the National Press Club, and addressed the General Assembly at the United Nations on World AIDS Day.
  • In October 1991, Miss Taylor established The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF). With a focus on direct services for people living with AIDS, ETAF provides funding to AIDS service organizations throughout the world to assist those living with HIV and AIDS.

Elizabeth Taylor with her Oscar following her acceptance of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1993.

In 1993, after nearly a decade of tireless activism and advocacy, she received an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in recognition of her global work raising funds and awareness for HIV and AIDS. Circulated widely on the internet on the day of her death, this powerful statement is from her acceptance speech: “I call upon you to draw from the depths of your being to prove that we are a human race. To prove that our love outweighs our need to hate. That our compassion is more compelling than our need to blame. That our sensitivity to those in need is stronger than our greed. That our ability to reason overcomes our fear. And that at the end of each of our lives, we can look back and be proud that we have treated others with the kindness, dignity and respect that every human being deserves.” (Read the speech in its entirety) This is how I will remember Elizabeth Taylor: humanitarian and AIDS activist.

Elizabeth Taylor was truly one of a kind. Only one human being possessed her unique blend of beauty, power, grace and courage. And there is only one of each of us. We each have fame in our own circles, power in our own communities, icon-like clout within our own families. And each of us can affect change in the world around us; it doesn’t take superstar fame or fortune to make a difference in the lives of others. The question is, do we have the courage to live such a life?

Comfortable with Uncertainty

I borrowed the title for this post from American Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön. Her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion, is described as “short, stand-alone readings designed to help us cultivate awareness and compassion amid the challenges of daily living.” I turned to this little gem today in search of a coping strategy; uncomfortable and uncertain are just a couple of words that capture how I’m feeling right now. Being familiar with Pema’s work, I knew deep down she would ultimately leave me with more questions than answers, but on the edge of desperation, I jumped in anyway.

Four weeks ago tonight, I got off my bike, sweaty and spent from a grueling 90-minute trainer class. I felt good after the workout. I had been focused, worked hard and still managed to have some fun. Best of all, I was bringing home my new bike! That was the last time I was in the saddle, the last time my legs pedaled even one stroke. Each time I pull into the garage, I am reminded of my hiatus. Flanked on the passenger side by my loyal ride of 12 years and on the driver side by my new ride, I sigh and say to myself, “Soon.” Then, “But how soon?”

Despite a month of treatment and absolutely no riding, I’m still not seeing much improvement in terms of pain and tightness in my knees, upper legs, hips and glutes. I can’t really give you much detail about my condition because there isn’t really much to tell except that my muscles are bound in scattered hard knots, I hurt mostly when sitting and none of this seemed to bother me while riding. If I’d broken a collar bone, or were recovering from some sort of surgery, I’d have a target date for getting back on the road. But at this point, there is no certainty to what I have, no diagnosis, no defined treatment protocol; and there is no date, nothing to shoot for. Frustrated – another adjective that’s annoyingly permeated my vocabulary. I’ve resisted seeing my primary care physician knowing she’ll probably just throw anti-inflammatory meds at the symptoms, but I have to start there to see about some tests and possibly physical therapy. Sigh.

As we get closer to the ride in June, I feel a mounting sense of urgency. With each passing week, the mileage builds and the intensity increases. I watch enthusiastically as my friends and teammates post their rides on facebook, but I can’t help feeling left out. I’m happy training is going well for them, some reaching milestones with every ride, but still, I’m anxious. According to the training schedule, this week we should ride 30-40 miles with some moderate hill climbing. Before the injury, that’s just about what I was doing. I was on track early.

By the middle of February, I had hoped to be feeling good about my training – and maybe even be down a few pounds from all those miles on the bike. Instead, my training is indefinitely on hold, and with the inactivity, I’m battling to keep the numbers on the scale from heading in the other direction. By this time, I figured I’d be blogging weekly about new training routes and adventures with cycling friends old and new. Now, I’m scouring the internet, pouring over books in search of answers for a condition that doesn’t seem to exist, except in my body (or maybe in my mind). Ice and heat are my new teammates, the foam roller and stretching mat, my new equipment.

I've always iced my knees after riding. Now I'm icing to get back to riding.

When I picked up the book this morning, the pages fell open to reading 47 – Recognizing Suffering. It spoke to me even before I read a word because of my 47 years. Then the first paragraph: “Disappointment, embarrassment, and all the places where we cannot feel good are a sort of death. We’ve just lost our ground completely; we are unable to hold it together and feel that we are on top of things. Rather than realizing that it takes death for there to be birth, we just fight against the fear of death.” Oy. Seems I didn’t pick this reading – it picked me. Having previously trained for long days on the road means I am acutely aware of what it takes, what I should be doing right now to be on top of things. Yeah, I’ve lost my ground. Completely. Of that I am certain.

I do fear the death of my dream of doing AIDS/LifeCycle and I am fighting against this fear. In my last post, I talked about adjusting my expectations. The longer this condition keeps me off the bike, the more that becomes reality rather than just paying lip service to acceptance and surrender. Pema concludes this reading with, “Everything that ends is also the beginning of something else. Pain is not a punishment; pleasure is not a reward.” I guess that’s her way of saying, “It is what it is,” and, “It’s not personal.” So I’ll work on taking it one day at a time, tending to my physical and mental health, trying not to need answers, striving to be awake to everything that is being born around me. And I’ll focus on what the ride is really about: bringing awareness to HIV and AIDS and raising funds for those bravely living with this disease. In the end, it’s not about me, and to borrow the title of Lance Armstrong’s book, it’s not about the bike.

Illness, Injury, et al

This past weekend produced another sunny San Diego Saturday. Usually such a splendid Saturday morning would be spent on my bike with the best of friends, logging essential miles in preparation for June’s AIDS/LifeCycle. On this morning, however, I found myself writing instead of riding, my new bike sitting idle in the garage while I sat idle on the couch reading up on the latest obstacle to my training: iliotibial band syndrome. To steal the title of Gilda Radner’s autobiography to describe my recent frustrations with missing out on miles, “It’s always something.” Over the holidays, the rain washed away multiple opportunities to ride. The morning of Christmas Eve when I thought folks were too busy to ride, I saw a friend’s facebook post from a ride around the South Bay. Turns out a missed text was the culprit. The next week, abdominal pain sent me to urgent care thinking I might have appendicitis. And now this.

Of course, Gilda’s “something” was her battle with terminal ovarian cancer. My “something” is simply a nagging injury that is keeping me off my bike, spiking my anxiety because I can’t seem to develop any consistency to a training regimen that must be my life for the next few months. Stressed and depressed is how my Saturday began.

Enter Carol. She and her daughter had morning plans for a trip to dog beach in Ocean Beach. She encouraged me to go along, to leave behind my disappointment about missing training, shelve my injury concerns and open up to the possibility of finding joy in another realm. I was reluctant. When I’m struggling with something like this, I tend to withdraw and want to be by myself to go through my process. Gently she pressed, pointing out that while I had no control over my injury, I did have control over the day that could be. And that I had never been to the beach with Birdie, never seen her really run. Carol’s gentle cradling of my heart melted my reluctance. I wiped away my tears and opted for some family time at the beach.

Tails waggin' - all smiles.

It was a gorgeous day to be outside. Sunny and 70 in January, a true blessing. As my bare feet sank into the warm sand, I could feel the muscles in my legs begin to relax. I wasn’t going to attempt wind sprints, but moving my body slowly and deliberately felt good. We let the dogs off leash and they ran wild, playing with each other at first and then moving on to investigate other dogs. Birdie ventured into the water a time or two, but she really wanted to run and play. I so admire dogs’ ability to live in the moment. Joy. That’s all they seemed to know on this playground. Dogs exhausted, we headed to get some lunch. We found a place where we could eat outside so the dogs could be with us and we could soak up more of the spring-like weather. Turns out it was a beautiful day spent with loved ones, a day I would not have experienced had I been out on my bike or stayed at home working through my process.

I’ve never had knee problems. Tens of thousands of squats assuming the position of catcher in my youth gave me strong legs which in turn protect the knees. Ankle injuries – now that’s an entire blog post in itself. Since taking up cycling in ’98, I’ve never really been sidelined with an injury, so this is a completely new reality for me. It doesn’t hurt when I’m riding, but shows up the next day as pain, burning and a general tightness that is just plain uncomfortable. A trip to the chiropractor revealed tightness at both ends of the IT band so deep tissue massage and foam roller torture are in my future the next few weeks, but I should be back on my bike soon.

Earlier this week, everything fell into place for a spontaneous dinner with friends and AIDS/LifeCycle teammates, Carin and Tammy. Spontaneity does good for the soul of someone who’s a planner (read “anal retentive”) like me. We shared a long, slow dinner filled with laughter, a few tears and some serious conversation around recent challenges we’ve each faced with our training. For me, it’s all about adjusting my expectations. In training for past events, I’ve been consistent and physically able to get in all the miles leading up to the event. The result: I’ve completed every mile of every event. I’m proud of that, and therein lies part of the problem.

AIDS/LifeCycle is a different event on so many levels. It may be that physically, my body won’t be capable of cycling an average of 80 miles a day over seven days. It may be that the goal is to ride every mile completely rather than to simply complete every mile. It may be that being present and open to all that is possible in any given moment over the course of those seven days is the very essence of this event, this cause, this human experience. Already, we’ve met some amazing people, been touched by stories of tragic loss and inspiring triumph and been blessed with the support of friends, family and colleagues far beyond our expectations. Goal?

As our dinner wound down the other night, in the midst of my monologue on preparation and disappointment, I had an epiphany. My ability to complete all 545 miles between San Francisco and Los Angeles is not a measure of me as a human being. That I have opened my heart to doing this – riding, fundraising, increasing awareness, fostering understanding, touching lives and being touched – is. So now I’m working on acceptance. And my ego is learning there is much, much more to the human experience than a 545-mile goal.

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