“On your left!”
“On your left!”
“Get it, girl!”
And so on.
A couple weeks later, back home, while passing a couple of other cyclists with a wide berth:
“Hey, coming up on your left!”
I was a little put out.
They call the community at AIDS/Lifecycle “the Love Bubble”, which is cheesy and something I typically have trouble embracing for that; such things are, all too often, a façade, an untruth. But the reality is, people on the ride were so damn friendly. I was there, unexpectedly, on my own, and yet as I rode among hundreds of other groups of people, I found friends.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how it’s hard to be a good person in a bad society. Not everyone has the strength, even though it is morally necessary, and so atrocities proceed. How are good societies built, encouraging people to be the best version of themselves? I don’t know, but there was something on this ride, where everyone reached out to help, to do favors, to give a grin, that made me feel as though being a bad person here would be much harder than being good.
We started in a mist of a cool rain, which was funny in its atypicality. Two days later, we had ridden so far that we were sweating it out in 96 degrees Fahrenheit. And so we continued down California, 545 miles by bicycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
It took time to figure the routine of everything out, but I slowly became more efficient. When I reached camp, I downed the chocolate milk offered to me and then set about my tasks: finding the luggage trucks, getting my luggage and my tent, finding my space in the tent grid, setting up my tent, walking to the shower trucks and cleaning up, attempting chores like phone charging or laundry, dinner, and the evening programming if I was quick enough, water bottle refill and brushing my teeth. By the time I was back in my tent it was dark, and in the morning I rose before 5am.
Use the porta potty, change into riding clothes and put on sunscreen, pack the tent, back to the luggage truck, then to breakfast to cram in some calories, then to the bike corral, find my bike, mix my electrolyte drink. Hit the road before the mist burns off. Freewheels spinning, calls of “on your left”, the sun rising.
Rest stops, sanitizing protocol, food and drinks. Then the medical tent, where the cream needs built up: sun screen, lip cream, chamois cream, cream for a bee sting. Find new friends, hit the road again. The landscape changed from coast to farmland, to hills to coast again.
Each day had its pattern. Time stretched and compressed. And there were moments. Helping a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence find their dropped eyelashes on the floor of their tent the morning of red dress day. Coming up on the wheel of a new friend, “I caught you!” Rolling into Pismo Beach, ready for those much-hyped cinnamon rolls. Nearly rolling past a photo op set up on the side of the road with a drag alien. Lined up to leave the halfway point in waves, chatting with a man who told me about his famous mentor—and that he had been living with HIV since the late 1980s. The talent show, with singers who were real pros. The candlelight vigil on the beach in Ventura, honoring those who died from AIDS. Finding someone else in a Ukraine kit. Playing red light/green light Squid Game-style, but with water guns. Reaching the top of Quadbuster hill to cheers and snapping fans. Paradise Pit, with ice cream better than I had hoped for. The dance party rest stop, with bibs pulled halfway off and booty shaking in cycling cleats. Getting mac and cheese for dinner. Catching the sunset settling over the field of tents. And of course, riding through the finish line, flanked by a tunnel of cheers.
Despite the mounting exhaustion, the pattern pulled everyone toward goodness.
At one of the evening programs, a man joked that when he moved to San Francisco, he was told that in the gay community, he had three options for socializing: joining the gay men’s chorus, playing softball, or becoming “one of those crazy motherfuckers who rides their bike to L.A.” I’m merely adjacent to the community, but I have become one of those crazy motherfuckers in solidarity.
Butt pained, legs tired, heart happy. I would go back.
AIDS/Lifecycle is a week-long event where cyclists ride 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles with the help of volunteers called “roadies” who help with food, logistics, camp set-up, and more. This event is a fundraiser for two organizations, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.