• Photo for Inside the Ride: A Report from AIDS/LifeCycle 9
    Photo Credit: Devin Wicks

Inside the Ride: A Report from AIDS/LifeCycle 9

By L.K. Regan

The ninth AIDS/Life Cycle biked out of San Francisco on Sunday, heading down the long road to Los Angeles to raise money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. Among the riders was our own Devin Wicks, creator of the RealJock Strength Foundation workouts and fitness operations director at the University of California, Berkeley. (He's the center person in the happy trio to the right.) We caught up with him on the road to get a feel for the ride so far—and it sounds like he's having the time of his life.

We caught up with Devin on day four of the ride, when he was camped in Santa Maria, Ca., 350-plus miles south of San Francisco. He told us that the roughly 1,900 riders biked out of San Francisco's Cow Palace on a very wet, cold and foggy day—but the weather let up once they hit the famous Highway 1, and from there it was beautiful all the way to Santa Cruz where they camped the first night. "The first night of the ride is always really lively," Devin says, "because it's everyone's first chance to get acquainted with each other, and for the first-timers, the chance to figure out how to pitch the tent, find the shower trailers, and experience the dining tent." Everyone on the ride eats in a dining area—a mobile cafeteria with, Wicks says, "pretty decent food for camp food." At dinner, speakers give the day's news and events, and present a program. There's entertainment, too (they've watched some Glee, naturally). And after that, it's time to hit the sack and get ready for day two: the first century.

Day two of the ride features a 107-mile pedal from Santa Cruz to King City. "For many of the riders, this is their first century," Devin says, "so that's a pretty big deal." (Cycling newbies, a century is a 100-mile ride.) A tailwind helped out for much of the day, and was greatly appreciated. The second day of the ride also introduces a traditional, and much-loved feature of the AIDS/LifeCycle, the rest stops. Each rest stop has a crew that works it, and it is the same crew at each stop on each day. So, for instance, the rest stop one crew will be running the first rest stop on each day of the ride. This sets expectations very high and generates a lot of anticipation. Enter the Day Two Otter Pop Water Stop, staffed by the Dancing Bears (that would be the human version) in tutus.

There is more of this frivolity on day three, which rides from King City to Paso Robles, and which features a rest stop at the mission in San Miguel (an actual functioning mission). Here, Devin says, "The rest stop four boys put on a low-budget Price is Right. All of them were dressed in full drag with the games from the show for riders to play. It's like, get your bike fixed, have a snack, play a game." Day three also includes a famous hill called the Quad Buster, right after rest stop one, in the morning, this hill is relentless. Devin tells us ride rumor holds that it's a 12 percent grade, but this strains credulity. We can believe it feels that steep, though! In the spirit of the ride, and despite having trained not at all for the event, Devin wound up riding the hill twice—once he got to the top, he rode back down to help cheer on the people still fighting their way up.

That kind of communal spirit is what brings people back to the AIDS/LifeCycle year after year. More than the yummy snacks and rest stop hilarity, it's really about community. Things like the tiny town of Bradley, whose lone K-12 school funds an entire year of extracurricular activities with the proceeds from the hamburgers it sells to passing riders. Or the Positive Pedalers, honored on the third night of the ride. These are the HIV-positive riders who raise money as a group. "Their aim," Wicks says, "is to abolish the stigma around HIV, so that more people will get tested. So honoring the work they do is really important." So is honoring the contributions of the roadies, who put on their fashion show on the same evening. "Being a roadie is so hard," Devin says. "I did it last year, and that's why I decided this year it would be easier to just go back to riding!"

On to day four, and another climb: the Evil Twins, two consecutive big climbs, one right after the other, after which the riders reach Morro Bay and the half-way point between San Francisco and Los Angeles. "There is a huge sweeping vista there as far as you can see; and everyone stops and celebrates making it half way." It's a chance to appreciate all the hard work, and powerful moments. "People along the route cheer you on," Devin told us. "And we're cycling along, out in rural farmland. And a lady is sitting by the road, all by herself. As we pass she says, 'Thank you. You're riding for me.' And in areas where people don't have access to the same kind of services they have in SF or LA, that really puts into perspective why we're doing this."

Devin tells us he is one of 1,900 riders this year, a little down from last year's numbers. But while the economy may have impacted the turnout, it did less harm to the fundraising than one might think. Each individual rider raised more than in past years; while everyone on the ride has to raise $3,000 in order to participate, there were people who brought in as much as $35,000. All told, they brought in about 10 million dollars. Not bad in these difficult times, and another crucial step forward.