What a week. Words cannot describe the emotions that come over a person during this week. We all laughed, we cried, we struggled, we were in pain. But we all made it through.
Cow Palace, San Fransisco
Total Miles Traveled: 0 (0%)
Miles to go: 556.8 (100%)
Day Zero was a great day. Tom, JC and I headed over to the Cow Palace about 9:30 or so. We got there just as the first orientation video was starting so we just wondered around for a while while JC and Tom met up with all the people they hadn’t seen since the year before. It really made me glad to see that these sorts of bonds have been created. I couldn’t wait to get the week started and meet some of these amazing people. We went through the videos, we met tons of people, we got everything lined up. After that we headed out to cross the Golden Gate bridge and explore the areas above the bridge. Pretty amazing areas, we saw some great old bunkers from WWII . We also headed over to Sausalito, CA for lunch. After that we headed back to the hotel. I hung out in my room for a while and eventually met up with my new roommate for the night. We headed over to Tommy’s Joynt for dinner. Really great place to carb up before Day 1!
Cow Palace, San Fransisco to Harvey West Park, Santa Cruz (89.9 Miles)
Total Miles Traveled: 89.9 (16.5%)
Miles to go: 466.9 (83.9%)
Day One began at 4am. It was a pretty sleepless night as it was, I was so scared and nervous for the journey that was about to begin. All night long a few words kept going through my head. “Are you CRAZY!!?”. What on EARTH was I doing there! What was I thinking about, am I really going to ride my bike 556 miles all the way to Los Angeles! I have to be insane.
We loaded the Team 100 bus at 4:45am and headed out to the Cow Palace. It’s amazing there can be a traffic jam at 5am, but when you have 2,700 people all converging on the same place at the same time, that’s exactly what happens. We finally arrived and unloaded the bus and took our gear to one of the 20 gear trucks. The day was cold and foggy, just a regular day in San Fran, but it would turn out to be one amazing day.
After dropping off our gear we all headed for the opening ceremonies. Chris Cole announced for the first time that we had raised over $11 Million… $11 MILLION! This is a amazing, over 2,300 cyclists from 10 countries and 43 states and 400 roadies to support us all! The real reason we were all here still hadn’t even hit me yet, but it took my breath away to hear about this number. We then heard from Lorri Jean the CEO of the LA Gay and Lesbian center and the first “Hellllllooooo Riders!” of the week.
We all made our way out of the Cow Palace early that morning wearing red helmet covers with the words “ride to end aids” on them to remember all those that we’ve lost to HIV/Aids. The covers were made into two huge ribbons which were displayed at the closing ceremonies. The first 22 miles of the ride was fairly easy, lots of rolling hills, tons of people out there cheering us on, and tons and tons of riders taking over the roads of San Fransisco.
The 10 miles from 22-32 were the worst miles of the day, 10 miles of climbing, up and up and up. But we made it up. It wasn’t near as bad as the Latigo Canyon ride from a few weeks ago. The rest of the day was pretty easy and flat, it was a great first 90 miles for the day and I was feeling great at the end. It took just over 6 hours to cruise through the day.
One of the highlights of the day however was a nice local lady who comes out every year and bakes over 400 pies. She’s known as the “Pie lady”. She comes out with her pies and her ice cream. After about 70 miles, it’s some of the best pie and ice cream you can eat!
Early in the morning however, I had one of my most moving moments, one that really brought to light the reason why we are doing this ride. Growing up in Iowa, I heard about HIV/Aids, I head stories, I saw news, but I never knew anyone who had lost someone to it, I never knew someone who had it. Since joining this ride, I’ve met some people and become friends with them. However this mother, she really brought to light why we are riding for me. As we rode by she stood on the side of the road holing a picture of her son. Above the picture it said 1950-1984 and below it it just said “Thank you”. She stood there in silence as we all rode by.
Harvey West Park, Santa Cruz to San Lorenzo County Park, King City (105.4 Miles)
Total Miles Traveled: 195.3 (35.1%)
Miles to go: 361.5 (64.9%)
Day two, the longest day of the ride, 105 miles. However, it’s also the day with the most unofficial rest stops. We traveled through some wonderful country side, vineyards and fields and fields of who knows what kind of vegies. The day stared off cold again, but once we broke through into the valley the sun came out and it was a gorgeous day. The day had it’s fair share of hills, what we as riders would really call “rollers”, but they were hills. They are just tiny little bumps on the route sheet, but when you’re at the bottom of it and looking up, it could be Everest for all you care. This was also the first day we really experienced some of the horrible cross winds we were going to have the whole week. It’s really very scary when it feels like the winds are just about to rip your bike out from under you.
As I said, this day had some amazing unofficial rest stops. The first one was “Cookie Lady”. Just like pie lady, only she bakes cookies. And lots of them! She starts 3 months ahead of time and bakes nearly 3,000 cookies. It really takes some dedication to be out there every year and to bake that many cookies. It really give you the energy to keep on rolling. The second really good rest stop was a little skinny dipping place out there in the middle of no where. After riding so many miles in the heat it sure did look refreshing. And you can’t help be enjoy all the naked bodies in the river. Sadly this year I was a bit too shy to actually go into the water. We’ll save that for next year, maybe.
Of course we also had the official rest stops and one of them really stood out on this day. That was the DMV Rest Stop. Everyone was dressed up in their white shirts and black ties. And they sure got the attitude right on the dot. Lots of yelling and telling you to hurry up and get in line. Every day at every rest stop we had some sort of theme. Another great rest stop that day was the Otter Pop stop, with some big burly men in little tutu’s gaily dancing. This stop was at one of the many missions here in Cali. This was Mission La Soledad. Very pretty place. I’ll have to be sure to take a real tour of all the missions sometime before my time is up here in Cali.
Just as every day on this ride, today there was another very moving moment. Just before we arrived in camp for the evening, there was a Grandma on the corner in her wheel chair, she was holding a picture of someone. It didn’t really matter who it was, but the fact that she was out there, remembering whoever it was for her, but to me. I thought of my grandma and what if that were her, out there having to hold my picture. I had tears streaming down my cheek the rest of the way into camp that night.
Speaking of getting into camp though. Those god damn “Camp 1 mile ahead signs”. They just love to taunt you and lie to you. “It’s all downhill from here”, “Almost there”, etc, etc. Damn lairs. You pedal your little heart out only to see those signs. I don’t care that it’s 1 mile ahead. I want to know when it’s 1 foot ahead. I just want to know when I can stop pedaling!
San Lorenzo County Park, King City to Paso Robles Fairgrounds, Paso Robles (78 Miles)
Total Miles Traveled: 272.6 (49%)
Miles to go: 284.2 (51%)
Day three took us trough some very small towns through California. Actually in the 78 miles we traveled, we only went through ONE town once we left our base camp in King City. That little town was called Bradely. But more about that in a minute. The biggest challenge of the day was called Quadbuster. If only you could see our route sheet for this day. Quadbuster is a 1.3 mile climb, not a big deal after the 10 mile climb on Day one, right? Well on our route sheet, it’s basically a vertical line…. It’s nearly the same amount of vertical distance we did in 10 miles, only this time in just over 1 mile. One pedal at a time. That’s the theme of this baby. You come to the first rest stop right at the base of it, and as you sit there. Eating my first of many bananas throughout the day and downing a Gatorade, I think to myself, “I’m never going to make it up that”.
But I take it on, drop it in granny gear and just keep my feet moving. After what seemed like forever! At the top of the mountain was Mom & Dad and Ginger cheering us on and had plenty of snacks for us to refuel before the next rest stop. Along with Cookie and Pie lady and the thousands or others that come out to cheer us on in the communities we pedal through, we also have a couple of great people who come along with us to every camp and every mile of the route to cheer us on at the hard parts. Ginger has been doing the rides for nearly 14 years now and even though he/she is no longer able to do the ride, she’s always at the top of the biggest challenge for the day to cheer us on. The same with Mom & Dad. They are always out there at some point along the route with a drum and trumpet to keep us moving!
The decent down the back side of Quadbuster is 8 miles of beauty, rounding the last turn after the decent from Quadbuster the landscape opened up to amazing Live Oak/Grassland country. Living in LA one forgets that there are untouched segments of our state left. It is easy to imagine what the entire state looked like before man took over, and it is kind of sad how much of it we have irreversibly changed.
Rest stop two for the day has some very bad Santa going on there. He was all dressed up in leather gear. I mention this not because it’s so strange. For this ride, nothing is truly unexpected. However, the best part of this story is that the elf was his MOTHER! A great team that’s for sure. This rest stop also featured gas at $4.29/gallon. I sure was glad I had human power at that point!
Our lunch stop today was in a small town of Bradley. Population: 120. Today however the population was nearly 2,500. What is great about this stop is the symbiotic relationship AIDS/LifeCycle has with the local communities we travel through. The K-8 school (with all 28 students) depends on the money made from the lunch sales to the riders of Lifecycle. The money funds their field trips, enabled them to build a much needed computer lab for their students and also gives each graduating 8th grader a $500 scholarship to college. It was truly amazing to see the whole community come together to feed 2,300 cyclists.
Again we had some pretty hard core cross winds this day and by the end of the day my knee was killing me, my back was in horrible pain from trying to stay on the road and every other part of my body was aching from just the normal pedaling all day long. Thankfully I met a great guy named Dustin through my friend Nick. And thankfully Dustin was on the massage team at base camp. So I went and got a massage from him that night which really helped out a lot. The next day was going to prove to be killer, but also had some real mental challenges which just kept me going and going.
Paso Robles Fairgrounds, Paso Robles to Preisker Park, Santa Maria (95 Miles)
Total Miles Traveled: 367.3 (66%)
Miles to go: 189.5 (34%)
Day four. Time for the EVIL TWINS! More like the evil triplets if you ask me! This day also marked a HUGE accomplishment by marking the 50% way point to LA! The day started off with our typical 6:00am stretching class and I was on the road by 6:30 just as the route was opening. Normally I’m a pretty fast rider, but this day my knee was still killing me. I ran into David and JC at the first rest stop and told them I might have to sag. Just thinking about having to do that brought tears to my eyes. I was here for a reason and I wanted to ride every last mile of this route. They kept telling me that there’s no shame in sagging out one day, there’s always next year. But that wasn’t an option for me. I’m stubborn and wanted to keep going.
I headed out and put it in granny gear and started cranking as hard as my legs would go. I putzed along on up the hill. David passed me and gave me some words of encouragement. I slowly made my way to the top only to be greeted by some of the most amazing views I’ve seen over looking the ocean and the mountains. David was at the top as well to congratulate me on getting up there and that really meant a lot to me. At the top of the mountain was also the half way point where everyone stopped to take pictures. It’s the perfect spot for the half way mark. Amazing views of the ocean.
We traveled through Pismo Beach and some other very pretty beach cities. The cross winds this day were just as bad as some the others, we were all at an angle as if gravity had changed for us on bikes. But the last 10 miles were amazing. Cruising along at an easy clip of 29 mph with no real effort. You just have to love the tail winds. But as I was cruising along, I came upon an accident site. There were two ambulances and a Med team along with a ton of bikers pulled over. I figured they didn’t need another by stander, so I just kept moving. I found out the next day though that it was my good friend Nick who had gone down. Nick is an amazing cyclist and I was very sad to hear that he was injured. Thankfully he only broke his collar bone, because at the speeds I was going, I’m sure he was probably moving much faster. At those speeds a lot could have happened if he hadn’t been such a safe cyclist.
Today also marked the 2,000 miles I’ve put on my bike since buying it oh so many months ago! What an accomplishment! As we headed into camp that evening it was so moving to see all the people lining the streets to cheer us on. Every evening we were greeted by crowds of cheering bystanders to let us know that we’re doing an amazing thing out there. We really are touching the hearts of these communities.
Preisker Park, Santa Maria to River Park, Lompoc (44 Miles)
Total Miles Traveled: 409.8 (73.6%)
Miles to go: 147 (26.4%)
Day five. Only 44 miles? Are you kidding me. No problem!… Boy was I wrong with I thought that! Lots more of those oh so lying “Rolling hills”. Rolling my ass! We had all heard of Quadbuster and the Evil twins and all the stories that go along with it, but not once did we hear about the evil hills of Red Dress day! Speaking of, it was also Red Dress day. Actually, it’s called “Dress Red day” because the hills we climb through are shaped like the AIDS Ribbon when viewed from above. However, it’s now a tradition for everyone to wear a red dress. I didn’t this year, but I think that next year I will.
We traveled through some small towns again and one of the stops is called Casmalia. A small town in the middle of no where California. Here we have a HUGE dance party. Imagine it, 1,000+ men, women, gay and straight all dancing in the middle of the street in red dresses. What a sight! I’d hate to be someone just traveling through for the day. But then, who would just be “traveling” through in these parts? It’s also pretty funny that this day brings us through the great Vandenberg Air force Base. All these people in red dresses. What must the Air force think about us!
That night during our evening announcements we heard from a CHP officer. During her speech about safety and while she was being all “official”. All of a sudden she says “Ohhh, look”. As if she were a 12 year old girl. We all turn to see what she’s so excited and pointing at. It was a missile launch from Vandenberg. Pretty cool. That night we also learned about a grandma from a small Missouri town who lost her eldest son to AIDS in 1989. It was a moving story of how she couldn’t talk to anyone in her small town. She then sang a great song about why we do this ride. I only wish I could remember all the words. But it was funny and moving all at the same time.
River Park, Lompoc to San Buenaventura State Beach, Ventura (86 Miles)
Total Miles Traveled: 495.3 (89%)
Miles to go: 61.5 (11%)
Day six started off a little strange. I was eating breakfast alone this day because everyone else was still in bed, when who but Chad Allen sits down across from me and we have a great breakfast chatting it up. For those who don’t know, Chad is best known for his roll in Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. The morning was absolutely freezing. When the porta-potty is steaming, you know it’s f’ing cold!
Today we finally started to make our ways into some more populated areas including Santa Barbara, CA where we were greeted by the great people of the town, including the mayor for free ice cream and massages. Ginger was of course there in one of her crazy outfits to cheer us on from there.
Another member of the infamous Lifecycle ride is a guy nicknamed “Chicken Lady”. Every year he comes out and rides with us all dressed up in funny chicken type costumes and he drops little eggs along the road for the cyclists behind him to find. At the end of Day 6 he goes around to every bike and attaches an egg to your seat, inside the egg is a motivational message and a little piece of candy for you. It’s amazing what these people go through to cheer us all on.
That evening was the Candle Light Vigil. I attended it with Dustin and Nick. The sight of 2,700 people on the Ventura beach with candles is one of the most moving people I had seen on this ride. Just amazing. We’re all there for the same reason, to fight to end the horrible impact this disease has on us. I started to break down on the beach and the support we all have here really showed. Even though I had only met Dustin a few days before, he put his arm around me for support. I stood there on the beach thinking about the positive people I had met on this ride. The stories I had heard. All of the people I have met, were told 15 years ago that they would be dead by now. But here they are riding 556 miles, they are healthy. We are all fighting so that one day we no longer have to ride for this cause. So that we can ride for something else.
San Buenaventura State Beach, Ventura to VA Center Los Angeles (62 Miles)
Total Miles Traveled: 556.8 (100%)
Miles to go: 0
Wow, it’s final. It’s amazing. The week is over, it’s all gone by so fast. The days have all passed so fast and yet they seem so far away. As I leave camp and pack up for the last time of the week I think about all the people I’ve met throughout the week. The friendships I have made and hopefully the life long friends I will always know. As we made our way down the beach this day I took my time.
Again we had some of those great California Rollers. The route map shows a flat line for the day, but the route sure was not flat! I’d like to know who makes these things! They are the biggest liars out there!
The day went by fast and I made it into the lunch stop at Cross Creek in Malibu by 10:30. I was so happy to be back here. I’ve been to Cross Creek a hundred times before and I was just so happy to be back in an area I knew. I only ate half my lunch and then packed it up in my pockets to carry the rest of the way back to LA. I stopped on the way and took a pic by the LA City Limits sign. Got to the Team 100 Water stop and spent a few hours there cheering all the riders up the last hill into LA. Only 5 miles to go to the end. I was glad to be there, now one of those who was on the street cheering everyone else on. We left there about 2:30 to ride into the VA together, all 100 of us.
Closing ceremonies were just as moving as the rest of the week. We all rode in, 2,300 cyclists, dancing and cheering and raising their bikes in the air. We heard our last “Hellllllooooo Riders!” or the week. I headed out after that and sadly didn’t get to see many of my new friends before leaving. It was just far too much of a mess to try and find everyone there. Jess drove me home and we went out to dinner.
The Day After
Today is the day after and I’ve spent the whole day trying to write this up and get it ready. I have yet to start to read the 3,000 emails I have or any of the other news stuff that I have. I miss the open road and the riding, I miss all the people and the camaraderie, I already miss it all already. I’m not as sore as I thought I would be, so that’s good. The question posing me now is, “Do I do it again?”. At this point, I’m not sure. I have a lot to think about over the next couple months. But I think there’s a pretty good chance that I will.
My whole body is pretty much burnt. My face is peeling like crazy, my arms and legs are burnt. And I have horrible tan lines. There’s a line just in front of my ear going down my face where the helmet strap was at, there’s a line on my forehead where the helmet covers. And the best one, is that my hand is white, but the tips of my fingers are burnt (because of the fingerless gloves we wear). It’s crazy.
I haven’t really talked any about camp life, but it was very cool to see a whole town move down the road every day. 25 huge Budget rental trucks with all our gear, 6 semi’s of mobile showers and 2 semi’s of kitchen which cooked us all 3 excellent meals a day. This all includes full service medical tents, a chiro tent, a massage tent, info services, camp store and tons of other things we need.
Each rest stop was staffed by an amazing group of roadies with tons of food and snacks, Gatorade, water and entertainment! The best part were these amazing Graham cracker and peanut butter snacks we had. I’m going to have to try and find where I can buy them!! Each rest stop was also staffed by a full medical team and a Cannondale repair team.
The food in camp was amazing. We had mostly chicken, but also had blueberry muffins, and steak and pork chops and soo much good stuff. I wish I could eat like that all year long without getting fat! It was so good. I’ve probably drank gallons of Gatorade over the last week, which by the way is HORRIBLE. Vitamin water is a million times better! Every night you had your choice of tons of deserts as well.
There’s so much that I could go on and on about. I haven’t even got a chance to talk about the amazing people I got to meet. So I’ll probably be talking more about this over the next few days, but this gives you a great overview of the week.
All the pictures from the week of Aids/Lifecycle can be found on the photodump. Of course for all the official coverage, including other cyclist blogs, pics, and podcasts be sure to read all about them on the Experience Lifecycle page.
Here’s a short video of the event: