Insider Views of the AIDS Lifecycle Ride

aidslifecycle1AIDS Lifecycle is a 7 day, 545 mile supported bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles that raises money and awareness for the HIV and AIDS services of the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.  Thousands of people participate, 2,500 as riders and 650 as volunteers & roadies. These people come from all over the United States and from 17 countries around the world. They range in age between 18 and 83. There are riders with disabilities, including deaf riders and riders with cerebral palsy. In 2016 this large and varied group came together and raised over 16 million dollars.

We spoke with Cecina Hines, Service Coordinator and Salisha Lloyd, Data Coordinator, from FNRC Redding, who both participated in the event this year. Cecina participated as a rider and Salisha as a roadie.

2016 was Cecina’s second time making the ride, her first was in 2014, and she has already signed up for 2017. The first time she rode, Cecina says that while she had ridden BMX bikes in her younger days, she had little experience with long distance cycling. She was motivated by a desire to “See if I could do it” and because “It would be cool to say I rode from San Francisco to LA.” So, she trained for about six months, mostly on weekends, joined her riding partner Jim and completed her first ride.

In 2014 Salisha followed Cecina’s ride closely, texting with her and checking the group’s progress on their website aidslifecycle.org. Salisha also kept their coworkers informed of the latest developments, acting as a go between for Cecina and the folks back home. Seeing what a great experience Cecina had and learning about the work of the AIDS Lifecycle inspired Salisha to get involved herself.

Flash forward to 2016. Cecina spent a year training, starting with 20 mile rides and gradually increasing the distance to the point where a 60 mile ride is “no big deal”. She also completed a ride from Oakland to Sacramento, about 100 miles, to prepare her body for the many miles and hills of the AIDS Lifecycle course. Those hills are daunting, with names like “The Quad Buster” and “The Evil Twins”.

Cecina rides a road bike, a multi gear bike designed for long distance rides. This is the most common type of bike used on the ride but people also use mountain bikes, beach cruisers, folding bikes, recumbent bikes, and fixies. A recumbent bike’s seat is lower and has a back rest allowing the rider to sit comfortably. A fixie has fixed gears, meaning that if the bike is moving the pedals must be turning. There are also support team members on motorcycles.

Salisha is part of the support team; she and her group serve 6,000 meals per day, over 42,000 meals over the course of the event. The meals are prepared by a catering company that went on to prepare food at the Rio Olympics, the AIDS Lifecycle ride acted as a test run for them. The support team also includes The Moto Crew, support team members on motorcycles who ride ahead and direct the riders. There is also the SAG or Support and Gear Crew, team members in decorated cars that follow behind the riders offering mechanical assistance a moral support to riders who fall behind.

This brings us to an important aspect of AIDS Lifecycle; it is a ride, not a race. The riders are not competing with each other, they are challenging themselves together. When they are on the road the riders are in what they call the “Love Bubble,” a safe space where all participants support each other and work to keep everyone safe.

Safety is of the utmost importance with such a large group traveling great distances over seven days. “Ride Safe, Be Safe” is their moto while on the road. Cecina was fortunate enough not to have any accidents but not everyone was so lucky. On the first day there was sizable pile up of riders. In addition, there was also an accident in which the rider who had raised the highest amount of money was injured. He had to ride with the support crew for two days until he had recovered enough to rejoin the ride on day three.

Each day of the ride offers its own challenges and changes of scenery. Day three was hot, about 100 aidslifecycle3degrees, prompting one rider to pay ten dollars for a soda at a school fundraiser in Bradley California. Day four was particularly beautiful, cresting a mountain and seeing the ocean early in the morning before winding through picturesque farm land to end up at the coast by the end of the day. Then there was day seven.

The final day was rainy and very cold. The low temperature made it difficult for the already tired riders to force their muscles to function. The conditions were “beyond difficult’ and Cecina almost decided to call it quits and hop into a SAG car instead of finishing the ride. She pulled off at a rest stop and called her mom and friends for support and motivation. It was enough to get her moving again. She and other chilled riders wrapped themselves in space blankets (shiny Mylar sheets used to keep warm in survival situations, they sort of look like tin foil) and finished the race “looking like a bunch of baked potatoes”.

The ride ends with a celebration aptly named the Finish Line Festival. The festival is full of friends, family, food trucks and a closing ceremony to recognize the groups’ momentous accomplishments.

This year Cecina herself was able to raise $5,460 while the whole group raised over 16 million dollars. As mentioned above the money goes to the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. AIDS Lifecycle enacts a lot of positive change, the money raised in 2014 built a LGBT community center in Los Angeles.

Cecina has already signed up for the AIDS Lifecycle 2017 out of a desire to give back and challenge herself, and because as she says, “I can keep going through the struggle and reach out for support when it is needed.”

aidslifecycle2If you are interested in joining AIDS Lifecycle Cecina and Salisha suggest checking out the organization’s website http://www.aidslifecycle.org/.  There are videos that will give you an idea of what a day on the road is like, photos of previous rides and lots of information about how to get involved. If you are interested in riding, there are teams and groups you can join and train with.  AIDS Lifecycle supports riders of all ability levels, including riders with disabilities. You can also join as a roadie or donate money to help the cause. So, if you want to help in the fight against AIDS get on your computer, get inspired, and then get involved and support AIDS Lifecycle.

 

Interviewer Jordan Geddes