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  • There's a charity bike ride in California that starts in San Francisco and ends in Los Angeles. It takes seven days to complete the journey -- all 545 miles of it. Since it's a charity bike ride, each riding participant is required to raise at least $3,000 US dollars. The funds raised benefit HIV/AIDS patients using the services of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. The bike ride is called the AIDS LifeCycle.

    Before the spring of 2010, I have neither ridden my bike for anything longer than a 30 mile loop (done on a dare, mind you) nor have I done a lot of fundraising, except that one time during my teenage years in Manila. The former happened in Idaho in my mid 20's when two Patagonia/North Face-daily-clad former colleagues “invited me” to ride with them (Mike and Todd -- if you ever run across this essay, I want to thank you for the experience. Fuck you both). The latter was me constantly begging my mother for money; that fund raising campaign lasted all throughout my teenage years.

    So, for six months before “the ride,” I trained. I trained almost every weekend, first by myself and later on, with a group of other AIDS Lifecycle riders. The people I met during the training rides were doing it for many different reasons. Some were personally affected by HIV/AIDS (There was a group of HIV+ cyclists and supporters known as “Positive Pedalers”. They were awesome; especially this dude named Bob Katz. Awesome name, right?) Some were doing it as a personal challenge. But there was a handful of weirdos who actually liked punishing themselves with high mileage bicycle rides. I didn’t like them much.

    When “the ride” finally happened, I was nervous as fuck. The day we rode out of Cow Palace on that cold San Francisco summer morning in 2010, it felt as if I didn’t train at all. My legs were like Jello and my face was in a frozen state of despair. I heard someone calling my name. It was my husband, Erwin. I remembered smiling at him. The next few days were forever lost to the past. Every day, I struggled to survive, peeling each moment off of me. It was one of those experiences where living by the moment served a significant purpose -- to distract me from the misery I signed up voluntarily.

    Seven days later, we arrived in Los Angeles. I managed to stay in one piece thanks to my riding buddy, Melissa, a handful of friends I made along the way (Kevin, you were an AWESOME tent mate), and a lot of “Chamois Butt’r”. My husband and one of my best friends, Charles, greeted me at the finish line. My legs still felt like Jello, but nestled on top of them were “buns of steel.” Okay, “buns of raw skin.” On that hot summer afternoon in LA, I was surrounded by sweaty people, a lot of physical suffering, love, and a collective sense of compassion.

    Epilogue

    A year later, I was silly enough to do “the ride” one more time. For AIDS Lifecycle 2011 (a.k.a. ALC 10), I rode from SF to LA with Charles, his husband, and three other friends/teammates. My husband, Erwin, volunteered as a roadie crew that year.

    Thanks to three wonderful people who inspired me to embrace altruism and stick it to Ayn Rand:
    1. Nanay (remember the woman who I used to harass for cash?)
    2. My other best friend, Rich Kirkham (Rich rode ALC four times and spear headed a similar HIV/AIDS related charity bike ride for Northern California, The NorCal AIDS Challenge)
    3. My dear husband, Erwin. (Sorry you had to spend so many Saturdays alone while I hurl myself all over the Bay Area).

    The picture above was taken on June 2011, on the fifth day of the AIDS LifeCycle. It's also known as "Red Dress Day."
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