• Photo for AIDS LifeCycle day five: Red Dress Day
    Photo Credit: Jeff Titterton

AIDS LifeCycle day five: Red Dress Day

By Jeff Titterton

To start off today's log for day 5 of the AIDS LifeCycle ride, let me first start off by admitting that I do not a pretty drag queen make. Never have, never will. With my prominent (a.k.a. big) nose and small eyes, I tend to look more like a tall, gangly buffoon in a dress than a glamorous lady of the evening, no matter how many sets of false eyelashes you put on me.

That said, while it doesn't really do anything for me, I'm not completely averse to putting on a dress for a good cause, and Red Dress Day on day 5 of the AIDS LifeCycle certainly qualifies.

Last night at dinner, Lorri Jean, CEO of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, explained the history of Red Dress Day for the benefit of us newbies: many years ago, when California AIDS Ride had just started, the organizers were searching for a way to symbolically represent the red AIDS ribbon. Someone—most likely one of our brethren who loved nothing more than to slip on a skirt—suggested riders wear red dresses, creating a traveling red ribbon of riders on the road. No matter what you think about drag, it's a pretty powerful visual if you think about it.

But to be blunt, most of the men and women on the AIDS LifeCycle ride don't spend day 4 thinking about how they can't wait to bike in a dress. Instead, most of us think how we can't wait to bike only 43 miles. That's right, Red Dress Day is less than half the length of the longer rides, creating a sense of euphoria after 360-plus miles. This short-day euphoria probably adds to the party atmosphere and causes some cyclists to cross boundaries and do things they generally wouldn't do at home, much less in public on a large interstate highway.

That's right, yours truly wore bright red lipstick while pedaling through stretches of the rural northern reaches of Southern California. Oh yeah, and a bright red esprit skirt torn up the left side to allow for cycling. I looked pretty tragic, really.

Riding out, I felt pretty self-conscious in my MAC extra gloss. But only a few hundred yards into today's ride (after I figured out how to hike up my skirt so it wouldn't catch in my chain and cause a modern day AIDS LifeCycle Isadora Duncan incident) I finally looked up from my hemline and had another AIDS LifeCycle shocker. People in cars were waving and cheering us on. A mexican mom with three kids in the back of her car chatted in Spanish with one of our riders while we waited for a green turn arrow. When the light turned, she held up traffic so we could all ride through. All along the way today, we saw such random acts of kindness—truckers honking their horns and waving, migrant farm workers standing by the road clapping, even kids in a big yellow Lompoc School District bus cheering us on. At least five times along the route that day, people leaned out of their cars cheering and yelling things like "Thank you for doing this ride! God bless you!"

So I learned this today—it's not about the dress or the drag, it's about the bright red visibility that AIDS and HIV are all around us. Judging by the reactions of the locals between Santa Maria and Lompoc, California, this message really resonated with them.

So it was in this positive mood, this euphoric mood, that I left this party, party, party atmosphere of rest stop two and pedaled on for a few more miles, only to come upon …

the biggest, most hideous, most torturous hill of the ride. And me in a skirt! Struggling up this hill, I tried my best to keep my happy thoughts, but by the top, I must admit to not-so-silently cursing whoever had (a) the cruelty to plan this route and (b) the audacity not to tell us about the hill in advance. Later, at lunch, I asked some AIDS LifeCycle veterans what they call that hill.

"Oh, that's No Name Hill," said one AIDS LifeCycler.

"Actually, some people call it Red Ribbon Hill," said another, "because the people biking up it look like an AIDS ribbon."

I can think of some other names for it, but, gentle reader, I wouldn't want to offend.

1 out of 5

Feeling good! I have heard many people get stronger later in the week. I must be one of the lucky ones.

Tomorrow, we bike through beautiful Santa Barbara and into our final night of camping on the beach in Ventura. Let's just say that the excitement about not using Porta-Potties after tomorrow is so palpable around camp, you could cut it with a knife. Ewww…

Learn more about the Positive Pedalers, register for LifeCycle 6 or read more about the event at

Jeff is rider no. 2111. To make a donation to Jeff or to the AIDS Lifecycle in general, visit