I remember the first time I heard about the AIDS/LifeCycle. It was 2004, and I was summering in San Francisco between semesters at university, standing on the platform of the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station waiting for the train.
Across the tracks, a billboard announced the upcoming ALC: a seven day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in support of the end of AIDS. I didn’t know anyone with AIDS or HIV, and I had never heard of the SF AIDS Foundation or the LA LGBT Center, but a bike ride for a good cause sounded like something I wanted to be a part of. Besides, it was going to occur right around my birthday—it falls in the first week of June—which somehow made it more appealing.
My birthday and the ride were only days away and I had no bike or training, but I decided that one day I would do this ride.
Fast forward to 2010. I’d graduated from school, had been living in San Francisco for a few years and hadn’t forgotten my decision, but I also hadn’t worked up the courage to pull the trigger. An announcement was circulated in the advertising industry trades that an ALC team called The Red Pencils was being formed. The team would be comprised of advertising industry members; the leadership would reach out for sponsorship on our behalf, and we’d be responsible for our training and fundraising within our personal circles to reach the minimum $3000 fundraising required to ride.
I signed up.
Over the next 6 months, I bought a new bike, trained with my new teammates, relentlessly harangued people for donations, and began to figure out my packing list until, finally, Orientation Day arrived, and then I found myself rolling out from the start the next morning, terrified that I had wildly overestimated my abilities.
A rider floated up alongside me and tried to strike up a conversation, so I shared my fears with him.
“Ah, it’s your first ride?” He asked. I nodded. “Yeah, it’s kinda scary. I was scared my first time, too. Totally normal. Don’t worry. I made it through the first time, and you will too. It’s going to be amazing. You’ll love it.”
By the time we’d made it to lunch that first day, my fears had dissipated and the city was well behind me. We took to the road, cheered others on, took pictures with drag queens, laughed at a non-stop stream of dirty jokes, and brought out the best in one another. I became closer with my teammates, rode my first century (100 miles), ate artichokes, saw dolphins, made new friends, and discovered the consequences of being a cocky, novice rider.
As we made our way down the state and got to know one another, I discovered that HIV/AIDS was losing the battle to a group of people who lived life to the fullest, who managed their disease and found in it the silver lining of love, friendship, and acceptance that some had been seeking their entire lives.
This group of people who had spent so long on the fringes of society had come together with their supporters and created their own weeklong, traveling cohort, dubbed by those in the know as The Love Bubble. They set up tents for one another, shared stories, looked out for each other on the road and in camp, laughed, loved, were inspired by others, and never once judged you for anything. It was—and remains—unfailingly altruistic, honest, and genuine.
I was floored by their generosity of spirit, and would come to miss the it rest of the year until it happened all over again. For four years, I rode the ALC every year, and was looking forward to my fifth but, alas, it was not to be.
Last year, in the days leading up to the ALC, I felt wobbly. I was dizzy, nauseous, and in more than a little pain. I thought it would pass, and dragged myself through Orientation Day, only to find myself shivering in a sweltering car, swathed in down jackets and the coats of my friends, headed to the ER.
“Do you think I could still ride even a part of it?” I asked the doctor. A laugh bellowed out of him, and he shook his head no.
“The only place you’re going to be is in bed,” he replied. “No ride for you this year."
I spent the week in bed, devastated to be missing the ride. I signed up for 2015, but it didn’t take away the sting of missing my favourite week of the year.
As I healed up and the next ride approached, I felt distant, inured from the Love Bubble and its effects. I thought about not doing it, and about finding some other adventure, but fundraised all the same because some part of me refused to forget how incredible it all was.
Then the AIDS/LifeCycle 2015 opening ceremonies began and I was right back in it.
And boy, what a ride. I wrote a lot last week, trying to get it into daily posts for you but was stymied by technology. I’ll be back tomorrow with a recap of last week, and then I’ll see you a few days later for more on the BTAA!