I love Day 3 on the AIDS/LifeCycle because the route is fantastic. It begins with our first significant climb of the week, the infamous Quadbuster, stops through the small town of Bradley for a fundraiser lunch and Mission San Miguel for the best drag show that ever was, and ends at the fairground in the quaint wine town of Paso Robles. 

Today, despite being excited about what’s to come, I am cranky. I’ve slept poorly for the last two nights thanks to the person who is inadvertently perfecting their chainsaw mimicry on the other side of my paper-thin tent. My knees kinda ache. I’m running ever so slightly behind schedule. I can’t find my bike. Again. Each rack has its own cocktail-themed name, and despite remembering which cocktail I’ve racked up at, I can't find my bike on the first try (or on the second, third, fourth, or fifth try). I’m pretty sure my bike has magical invisibility features that no one’s let me in on yet, which would make a great security feature if it worked on anyone else.

Thankfully, Patrick’s kind enough to save me a spot in line while I search and, in classic ALC Love Bubble fashion, a small army of people assist in locating my bike. A few moments later, it’s been located, I’ve acquired a bike guardian to stand by my bike from now on to make sure I don’t lose it ever again, and I’m ready to head out. With a friend at my side (figuratively—single file only!), a hill ahead, and the delightful chill of the morning to bolster my spirits, I push my crankiness aside and enjoy some friendly banter with other riders, some of whom I’d met in line the morning before.

On the ALC I do my utmost to live by the mantra they set forth during orientation:

     Be kind. Be supportive. Ride safe, be safe. Don’t slam the port-a-potty doors.

But. But, but, but. I am cranky, and that seriously shortens my temper if I’m not vigilant. I have forgotten to be vigilant. People have settled into the riding routine and can get a little loosey-goosey with the safety rules. As we ride the 8 miles toward Quadbuster, our first significant climb of the ride, I encounter a cyclist who won’t move to let me pass safely, and who won’t communicate their reason for their refusal to move. I’d recount it for you, but it’s arduous, petty, and full of expletives, mostly on my part (sorry, Mom). The bottom line is that it's unsafe behaviour, and it pisses me off in a very non-Love Bubble kind of way. As soon as it’s over, I regret my words and am ashamed that I’ve let the ALC down. I’ve failed to be kind, supportive, and safe, and it’s not the way I want this rider to remember the ride. When we pull into the first rest stop, I look for him to reconcile and apologize, but he’s nowhere to be found.

I leave Patrick at Rest Stop 1 to prepare for his planned quintuple ascent of Quadbuster, since I’m only planning to ride up once, and head onward to the hill feeling small and disappointed in myself.

The steep part of Quadbuster is 1.1 miles, and defeats many a cyclist on their way up, which provides one of those surprising opportunities to witness how the ALC brings out the best in people and also confirms that Patrick is a total beast on the bike (because 5 times areyouserious). As riders of all strengths and capability levels make their way uphill, those struggling are often not only cheered on but literally pushed uphill by those fit enough to take on the challenge. Toward the top, a small contingent of riders wait off of their bikes to give people a push. My friend Kate is among those giving a helping hand. I leave my pity party aside for a bit to cheer other riders on, to reconnect with the Love Bubble, and it works. Seeing people put others before themselves is humbling and heartening. 

 

At the next stop I connect with my teammate, Genevieve. We roll out together and head toward lunch, where the township of Bradley is holding a barbecue fundraiser for their school. Parents flip burgers and supervise while the children take our orders and dole out condiments. A girl I’m pretty sure isn’t actually old enough to be in school yet takes my order, then directs me to the cashier. It’s an adorable, incredible touch-point that allows us to bring a bit of the Love Bubble to the “real world”. The events of the morning are far behind me (ok, it’s only 10:30 AM, but that’s late in the day on the ALC), and my crankiness is all but forgotten. 

 

Genevieve and I arrive early at the Mission San Miguel, which means that the incredible roadies of Rest Stop 4 are still “putting their faces on”. The MAC Cosmetics team in San Francisco generously volunteers their time every year, driving from the city to the mission to do makeup for the team. It takes a while, but it’s always worth it. I tour the mission, chat with a friar, and instigate a small massage train before settling in to watch an 80s epic hair band battle between Jem and the Holograms and The Misfits. There are no words that will do it justice, so you’ll just have to see for yourself:

Finally, we head in to camp. My knees are sore, but Genevieve is cool to take it at whatever pace I’d like, and we cross paths with my friend Tim who rides in with us. Tim and I have been friends through three ALCs. His laugh-out-loud-funny sassiness is tempered by a genuine soul and a warmth that lights up a room. 

As we ride with the wind at our back (a rare and pleasant surprise for Day 3), I get to know Genevieve a little more and am blown away by the things I discover about her.  She has ridden Mauna Kea, which is arguably the most extreme cycling climb in the world, used to participate in equestrian competitions (among other athletic endeavours), and loves the work she does in education. She’s smart in a way that gives you hope for the future of American education. She’s humble about all of this, but everyone else who knows is happy to brag on her behalf, and so am I.

 credit: Georg Lester Photography

credit: Georg Lester Photography

On shorter riding days, they pull out all the stops at camp. I meet up with my girls at the lounge (next to the dance party, because the ALC does everything in style), and we get to know one another a bit better over root beer floats. Theresa, aka TDo, Jeri, Erika, Seema, and I hang out for a while before deciding to wander out of camp for food. We wander off in our own directions to get ready to head out.


Paso Robles presents the boon of being able to foray into local establishments and bring the love bubble in contact with the “real world.” This real world includes beer (only once your bike is parked and you’re off the course, naturally), which means it’s a world I want to be a part of. I wander around lost, looking for my team, but by the time I’m headed in the right direction they’ve headed back to camp. I’m starving. Thankfully, Patrick has finally made it in, so we meet up to grab a bite and celebrate his impressive feat. On the walk to meet up with him, locals stop me to ask how my ride is going and to high-five me. I am excited to connect with people outside the ride, to see and hear how the AIDS/LifeCycle has touched lives beyond camp. 

When I open the door to the restaurant, it’s swarming with ALC participants and locals alike, laughing, talking, and sharing in the Love Bubble experience. Patrick has ordered in advance of my arrival, but we are in a magical place where the fish is battered and fried in a way that prevents you from tasting it, which makes it edible to this non-fish eater. We order beer, which comes in red plastic cups because they’re out of normal glasses.

I’m in heaven.

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