5:10 a.m. I awaken in my tent, not to the sound of birds chirping, but to "The Snorer" whose loud baritone honks reverberated on and off all night. No worries. The tough 85-mile ride yesterday wore us all out, so even the human sound machine couldn't keep me from my shuteye.
The morning whirlwind of activity starts with breakfast, then tent packing, slipping on your spandex du jour. I tend to go for the simple, subtle biking wear, but I'm impressed with the vast array of original outfits worn by some of my AIDS LifeCycle riders. My favorite: One woman sports a goth black skirt over her biking shorts, with the word "Attitude" emblazoned across the back and "ME ME ME" running beneath it. I wonder if she's commenting sardonically to the riders who are passing her, a sort of subtle "screw you". Others wear various oddities stuck to their clothes and bike helmets, such as plastic frogs, dinosaur heads, wigs with curlers, wedding veils. It keeps your spirits up when you're facing 40-mile headwind or sidewind, as we did a few times today.
Today is the longest day of the ride, 105 miles through the flattest, windiest, seemingly most endless farmland imaginable. Without boring you with the details, a summary of what I imagine many other riders thought about as we pedaled through 8 to 12 hours of long, soul-suckingly flat terrain:
Miles 1 - 80: Pedal pedal pedal … oh look, a strawberry farm! … Pedal pedal pedal … Oh look, another strawberry farm … Pedal pedal pedal … Oh lord, another strawberry farm?
Miles 81 - 100: Pedal pedal pedal … Back hurts … Pedal pedal pedal … Butt so sore … Pedal pedal pedal … Ugh, another freakin' lettuce farm.
Miles 101 - 105: Pedal pedal pedal … Almost home, yeah! Pedal pedal pedal … Ugh, my knee is actually going to explode out the left side of my leg … Pedal pedal pedal … AIDS LifeCycle medics only 3.2 miles away! Pedal pedal pedal. I hope my tentmate got in first and set up the tent.
IT’S A BUFFET, NOT A RIDE!
The big lesson I learned on Day 2 of the AIDS LifeCycle as my body suffered through the distance and the monotony. The AIDS LifeCycle ride isn't about biking; it's actually all about the rest stops.
On the bikes we ride single file, so it's hard to chat up anyone, let alone have a meaningful conversation. But at the rest stops, you see old friends, meet new friends, get hugs from a volunteer, and learn why people are here. There's a woman whose brother died of AIDS. That guy has been positive for 25 years! Those two sisters lost their mother to AIDS.
Community. There it is, that dreadfully overused word. But in the case of the AIDS LifeCycle, I find that it really applies. To whit, a brief sampling of the community I personally experienced in between biking 105 miles today:
Cycling through the fruit and vegetable farms, you can't help but wonder what the fruits and veggies taste like. You get your chance at the artichoke farm, an unofficial AIDS LifeCycle rest stop, where a volunteer drag queen dressed as an artichoke directs riders and you're in line for 30 minutes talking to the people around you while you wait for a tray of the best deep-fried artichokes imaginable. Later, out on the road, you'll pay for the folly of eating them, but you had so much fun at the rest stop, it doesn’t matter.
ON BEARS AND OTTER POPS
Out in the middle of some strangely desolate but beautiful countryside, we come across the Mission Soledad rest stop. There, under an orange tent with club music blaring, Bill and Andy, the guys behind the popular web sites BigMuscle.com and BigMuscleBears, serve Otter Pops (aka flavored ice pops) with their friends while a big-bellied bear dances shirtless nearby.
Bill and Andy are notorious for their dedication to the community. Seeing them down here volunteering confirms their reputations as big sweethearts.
Nearby sits the mission itself, a simple white stucco building. Inside the rustic chapel, volunteers have set up an AIDS memorial beneath the statue of Mary in mourning black. The memorial consists of a cloth with handwritten messages written by AIDS LifeCycle riders to loved ones they have lost to AIDS. We sit silently, some of us pray. I watch as a man writes something, then leaves with tears running down his cheeks.
Long into the ride, we come upon the infamous bridge, some AIDS LifeCyclers gather for a nice skinny dip in the cool river waters. Say, this could be fun! My group parks and walks down, I walk into the water. It's beyond soothing. With less than 20 miles to go in the ride, you can practically hear your body thank you for the refreshing water. Note to guys who think this sounds sexy: One thing the naked swim isn't is erotic. Any guy who has ever done endurance cycling knows that at mile 80 sex is the last thing on your penis's mind; it's focused on survival.
THE COOKIE LADY
We just came upon an angel dressed in a green dominatrix outfit along a dusty stretch of road. She's the Cookie Lady, who for years has made 2,000 delicious cookies for the riders. She and two friends are pretty wacky and much beloved, for their delicious cookies, but also for their unique dedication to the AIDS LifeCycle community. Rumor has it she starts baking in January!
THE FINISH LINE
My group rolls in late. We spent too much time at the rest stops, and we're worried we won't have enough time to shower and eat before dark. But as we ride in, I see dozens of riders standing along the road, cheering us in. As I get off the bike and my legs let out a shriek. I remember that it's not about the bike, it's about the community.
2 out of 5
• The good news: No more shoulder pain.
• The bad news: All pain seems to have migrated to my left knee. Ouch. Time to go stretch.
READY TO RIDE?
Do you want to ride in AIDS LifeCycle 6 and have the best freakin' time of your life? Sign up today!
WATCH IT LIVE
To hear other perspectives on the ride, visit experience.aidslifecycle.org.
Jeff is rider no. 2111. To make a donation to Jeff or to the AIDS Lifecycle in general, visit aidslifecycle.org.