AIDS8 Ride

I did the AIDS8 LifeCycle fundraising ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in early June 2009.  It is a 545 mile/700 km ride over 7 days, the shortest day being 63 miles, the longest 108 miles, ridden by 2200  participants, and fully supported by 500 cooks, drivers, assistants, medical, chiropractic, sports med, communications etc - all volunteers.  Over the 7 days, you will climb over 20,000 ft!  Accommodation is in two man tents, you put them up, take them down and the whole 'city' moves south along the CA coastline and vineyards each day.  You have to raise $3000 to ride, and am pleased to say that I (meaning all of my wonderful friends who have contributed) have achieved over $4500.

And get this, the entire ride this year raised $10.5 million.  Yep, $10.5m.  An amazing achievement.  Link here to go to


The sweat, hard work, sore muscles, hardships that we had to endure paled into insignificance compared with the greater physical, emotional and mental hardships that have to be endured by people living with HIV/AIDS, and all the money raised goes towards assistance for those members of our community in SFO and LA coping with this disease.

I hope here to capture the events and happenings, and to give you an idea of the 'magic' that is created within this very special event.  I certainly looked forward to the experience of each day, I was told it is an event unlike any other and now I know what was meant.  Emotional at times, painful, and uplifting at others.  I thought before the ride began that friendships would be formed and they were, and that the whole journey would be an experience.  It was.

Orientation Day

Most of the day was Orientation at Cow Palace (an old rodeo hall), the start of the ride.  I had a wrist covered in coloured bracelets orange (for the safety video and police lecture), red (registration and rider #, 5385), and yellow, the Livestrong cancer support bracelet I have worn for 6 years now.  Reconstructed the bike and put it in line with 2200 others ready to roll on Sunday morning.  Meeting new people left and right.  A quick pasta dinner, a last glass of wine (the ride is alcohol free), and early to bed.  The ride starts at 07.00, we had to be there 05.30 or so.  The morning temperature today was 50F, so it will be a cold start before we hit the sun later in the day.  A big thankyou to my friend here in SFO, Marc Jones (shown here admiring my butt butter).  He has been a wonderful and gracious host.  :)   


Day 1 - Sun 31 May.  80 miles/130 kms to Santa Cruz

I guess the excitement of it all finally takes hold the first day.  After an emotional Opening Ceremony shown here, we had a 51F cold start from SFO then into the fog and mist.  A short 80 miles later we had found the sunshine and were in Santa Cruz.  It seemed to me an easy ride (but then Rule #1 I have since learned is that adrenalin hides a lot of pain).  I 'did' tent (with help from San Diego Todd the first time, but now it is solo), I 'did' mattress, and I 'did' sleeping bag.  All new stuff.  (Russell Ferrier now thinks this is some sort of sign that I will sleep in the refugios on the high Patagonian treks.)  Flushed with the success of tent I managed to pack everything up next morning only to discover my kit still buried deep inside the sleeping bag.  The idea is to sleep with it so it is nice and toasty next day.  Even if it smells like feet.  So I had to unpack it all to get my toasty kit.  And then pack it all up again.  THAT only happened once - but I was laughing at the time.

P5310577  P5310580  Now about 2 hrs past this photo I had a flat.  My only one of the ride in fact.  A thin piece of glass had poked its way through the tyre.  Have you ever tried to pull out a small sliver of glass with sweaty fingers when the tyre rubber is holding it tight?  Even dry fingers don't work (believe me).  Of course many riders asked if I needed anything, so yes, tweezers or pliers??  Of which no-one (other than Robert Buck of course) had.  So there was nothing to to it other than pull it out with my teeth (sorry dentist Dr Joe).  Never thought I would see myself putting my mouth near a dirty tyre, but I guess it goes with the camping.  It worked too.  I just wished someone had taken a picture, I know none of you believe me.

The organisation has to be seen to be believed.  Granted the ALC Foundation has been doing it for 15 years, and granted the Tour De France and others do the same thing, but moving a city (baggage, tents, kitchen, cooking trucks, shower trucks, command centre etc) for 2200 riders and 500 volunteer support staff (Roadies) every day takes some organisation.  And it all works.  The 5 shower trucks also purified, cleaned, heated and recycled the water.  I have never seen anything like it.


Day 2 - Mon 01 Jun.  108 miles/180 kms to King City

So the ride happens at the pleasure of the CHP (CA Highway Patrol) who permit it for all the various counties, towns and cities through which it passes.  If they see any traffic infringements or if city residents are irate at our behaviour (peeing in the strawberry fields is particularly poor form), the permit can be revoked.  Our first day saw many such things so we were warned and on our best behaviour for Day 2.  So many schools, businesses, and individuals support the cure for HIV/AIDS that they open their business to the riders (as this coffee shop did) and it 

P6010592  makes for an enormously fulfilling feeling.  That others really do feel the same way you do.  We called them random acts of kindness.  Just before the coffee shop a group of schoolchildren lined the road with outstretched hands for the high fives as we passed.  Lovely idea, but unfortunately they placed themselves right next to a storm water grate, whose tyre-sized slits are death to cyclists!  

 P6010594 The various Rest Stops vie with one another for the best theme of the day.  There are no ordinary Rest Stops let me tell you.  AND the themes change daily, so there must be wardrobe trucks filled with only their outfit changes.  This was a pajama party complete with hair curlers.  And below was one of the demure flight attendants from Pan Am who had chosen a winery for their passenger service and First Class lounge.   More on the Rest Stops can be found below, together with 'tell all' stories..........


And then there are people who want to salute the efforts of all involved by making the ride that little bit easier.  Here we have Cookie Lady and her jugs.  Of milk.  She and her family start baking the free cookies in Feb and then put them in the freezer P6010606  (remember this is at least 2200 cookies) for their one day of the year.  Her husband and son were busy filling cups with milk, and then putting them on ice to keep them cold for the riders to come along.  Undoubtedly Cookie Lady has a name, and she deserves a medal to go with it.  Another of the random acts of kindness I spoke of earlier.

P6010607  I was arrested later in the day for disobeying orders as we entered the last Rest Stop.  The officer ordered us to park our bikes and then strip down, awaiting further unspecified action.  Naturally I was trying frantically to obey, but they were too quick to take the mug shot, and my fantasy remains unfulfilled.

Day 3 - Tue 02 Jun.  67 miles/110 kms to Paso Robles

P6020614  Jim Hatch at left was our wonderful baggage roadie friend.  They dragged our bags into the trucks, drove, and then unloaded.  When It rained, they covered the outside bags with plastic, a most appreciated thought.  Here  just before ride out at 06.30 with Jamie Pereira, and his sister-in-law, Meryll.  Like me, she was a ride virgin.  She is really a marathon runner, but switched to the bike especially for this ride.  Overachiever!

P6020619  Another act of kindness occurs annually in the little town of Bradley.  When Highway 101 was built, it passed them by and their motorist income dried up.  CA schools receive less and less funding from the State each year, so Bradley started to sell hamburgers etc for lunch to benefit the school.  Now the ride is totally catered so there is no need for anyone to buy lunch, but here you can see a happy line up of what would be probably 1000 riders who buy their lunch.  Last year $8000 was raised, and it totally paid for the school's graduations, their arts programme, their music programme, all school excursions, and after school sports.  We were advised the day after, that even with 300 fewer riders than last year, the school raised $11,000!  Some things just make you feel good.

P6020620  One thing that makes the ride different to other group rides, is no peletons.  For the non riders amongst us, that means no drafting.  When you draft behind a rider, you can save ~30% energy expenditure, which means that the group (peleton) can ride faster as you have fresh riders ready to take over in the lead.  Faster also makes it more dangerous, which I guess is why the ALC ban drafting.  The point being that in my previous rides in Europe, we all draft, most people do if you are confident in the safety and skills of the people in front of you.  So you ride the whole way here, no hiding behind anyone.  Which is why my view was often like this, an empty road ahead, or close to.  I am one of those people who likes to get out and get going, and often finished early in the day.  The downside was that between Rest Stops at least, you could have an insular ride.

P6020621  Did I say Rest Stop again?  Trans Am had a lovely stop in the Mission below where they took Complaints, had a First Class lounge, performed several shows, and also had a Duty Free shop (only shower gel to tell the truth, but it was free, although it raised $300 in tips which went to help the Mission).  Having large tatas must have been part of the selection process as they were all very well endowed girls.  And cold too I noticed.

 P6020627 This Mission is the only one left in CA that retains the original frescos in the church.  

Day 4 - Wed 03 Jun 94 miles to Santa Maria

P6030630  So Day 4 has what are called the 'Evil Twins', two hills right after the first Rest Stop.  They are a bitch, the first is shorter but steeper (7-8%), the second right after the first is 1.3 miles at ~5%.  Altitude isn't so high, about 1760' however it does take you above the fog line (at 7.30) in the morning.  Coming down through the fog was also somewhat nervy, +30 mph into white nothingness tests your mental ability.  I was behind a girl who kept shouting out that she was petrified.  Every time someone passed her, she shouted it right into their ear.  That helped up the stress levels.

P6030633  Which all helped make Rest Stop 3 all the more worthwhile.  It obviously didn't need any help.  Theme was 'Best Little Whorehouse in Texas', and another one in which I strayed (did I say strayed?) for some time.  Part of the benefit of riding quickly is that you can spend more time in the Rest Stops and enjoy the ambience.  And, well, rest of course.  I decided that cowboys have come a long way since the Lone Ranger.  Sill looking for Tonto.

P6030636  And the famous Rest Stop 4 came up with another fun theme, Sees Candies.  I later met one of the Rest Stop 4 crew, Matt from LA.  He was saying they begin planning in Jan/Feb for the event, come up with the themes, and they make all their own outfits.  These candy uniforms started life as lab technician coats apparently.  They have their own website and have a waiting list many people long to join the group.  They sure are good.

P6030643  The campsite at Santa Maria was again excellent.  The only problem you have changing campsites every night is in trying to remember in which direction the loos are at 2am when you needed that bladder easing piddle.  You also long to be back home simply to know where all your stuff is.  Somehow when you open your bag, it all explodes and whatever you want at any time suddenly disappears, only to reappear in the morning under/in/on top of something where it wasn't before.  Camping, hmmmmm.

P6030650  Ok Robert doing tent.  So you know I can actually do it.

Day 5 - Thu 04 Jun  (also known as 'Little Red Dress Day') 67 miles to Lompoc

P6040655  So the original thought years back was to wear red on one day to replicate a long red road ribbon of riders like the red AIDS ribbon.  Which of course, given the players, very quick changed into 'Little Red Dress' Day.  At the luggage trucks above you can see it enjoys pretty much 100% participation.  Which is interesting as the ride is composed of about 50/50 gay/straight riders/roadies.  Those who don't wear a dress are usually the first time straight guys, who by some miraculous event (after having seen how much fun the day is) apparently come back next time in the biggest brightest red dresses you have ever seen.  So for all the straight guys reading this, beware.  You may be next.

P6040659  An absolute wallflower I'm sure.

 P6040654 Nothing is sacred and nothing is tacky (by definition).  As an example, this is not tacky.  It is wonderful.  And Jeff Briggs here from SFO was uber-wonderful!!

P6040661  I barely made it into this picture.  And yes, he rode with all that hair.  Misty made my outfit and I received many positive comments (thanks darlin!).  Patty Ann, remind me to give you back your glasses too, also thanks!  The plan had been to not wear any under garments, but the 45F starts put a quick end to that thought.

P6040675  Some of the stunning scenery we passed.  The area really is the garden of the US.  Huge (and I mean HUGE) fields of strawberries, cauliflower, artichokes, lettuce etc etc.  They go as far as the eye can see in the valleys, ringed by the mountains we were climbing and descending.

Day 6 - Fri 07 Jun 86 miles to Ventura

P6050680  Right so what does one say about the infamous Day 6?  It started off with a fond farewell by my gorgeous luggage roadies, in the rain.  It started at 03.00 and continued till breakfast at 05.00.  Which was enough to wet whatever in the tent that was on the floor (= everything!).  We packed up in the drizzle, and headed out.  The rain picked up again, and we climbed up a stretch of road where the river coming down the road centre was deep enough that the trucks going by sprayed us up to knee height.  Not nice.  A steep descent awaited after Rest Sop 1, and the CHP pulled the permit after a car accident on the descent.  Guess they figured if it was to dangerous for a car, we would be disastrous.  


P6050686  As soon as we entered the Rest Stop we were given mylar blankets to prevent hypothermia.  It was still 55-60F, and wet naturally.  The fact that it was only the third time in 16 years that rain had fallen on the ride was little comfort, but the words to that song kept repeating in my mind.  If it never rains in California, what had gone wrong???

P6050688  Well do some maths and figure out how many 50 seat buses it took to transport 2200 riders 80 odd miles to Ventura, and THEN figure out how to get the bikes there too.  And you have an idea of the logistical nightmare that suddenly emerged from amongst the raindrops.  I remain incredibly impressed by the ALC organisation who must have had this as an emergency plan somewhere, but also by the attitude of the riders and roadies who realised in good humour that this was part of life and treated it, and everyone around them, with good humour and assistance wherever they could.  I was fortunate to be on the second lot of buses that went to Ventura, where it was still raining, and so we put all of our group of tents up in the same condition they had come down.  Wet.  However the sun came out that afternoon and as everything dried, the good humour turned into appreciation for everyone's input into putting the ride back on track.  Especially the roadies, many of whom made many many trips between Lompoc and Ventura that day and were working late into the night.


P6050719  The Ventura campsite is on the beach, and it makes a perfect place for the Candlelight Vigil that is held to remember those who are no longer with us as a result of AIDS.  It is very solemn and moving, no noise, no directions, everyone just silently moves to the beach for a personal remembrance of a partner, lover, friend, husband, wife who has died.  

Nevertheless, even after the Vigil, I along with many others helped the roadies unload bikes that were still arriving at 9.30 pm and put them on the racks so their owners could ride off the next day.  P6050727  


Day 7 and Closing Ceremonies - Sat 08 Jun, 62  miles to Los Angeles!!

 P6060734 I guess we must have deserved a blessing after the trials and tribulations of the previous day, because we had a pair of angels doing exactly that as we rode out on the final leg to LA and the Closing Ceremony.

 P6060743 The final 62 miles was along the coastline and a lovely ride.  Lunch was on a bluff overlooking the ocean and the sun washed away the mould from the previous day.

malibu  Lovely Malibu.  Just watch out for the Mercs and Porsches backing out of their driveways into you.

P6060745  Doug Burton held a tailgate party for his partner Tom 5 miles from the finish and margueritas, munchies and merriment was the order of the day.  I arrived early so went into Brentwood (OK got lost in Brentwood if you must know), had a Peets Coffee and came back to test the margueritas.  Which I think I recall were pretty strong, after a week of zippo vino.

P6060749  We then lined up before the final ride in to the Closing Ceremony at the VA Arena in LA.  It was a bit unreal to think that all this camaraderie and goodwill was about to turn back into the real world.  A bit like Dorothy waking up to find she is back in Kansas.  Unfortunately my red shoes were back at home.

I could go on about all the positive things about the ride, but I would simply say that if you have ever had  the slightest inkling to do something personal for HIV/ADS, then do this ride.  Or participate as a Roadie.  HIV/AIDS is a pandemic, designated so by the WHO.  But we hear much more about swine flu and similar so called pandemics because they press more populist panic buttons.

I have been frankly floored by the people who have opened up to me about their personal HIV/AIDS stories since I started this journey.  The long time associate who gives generously each year to a San Diego AIDS charity in memory of his son who died from AIDS.  Another who told me his brother is HIV +ve.  A lady I met at a party here in FL who thanked me for doing the ride and raising money because without that her sister in NYC (who became HIV +ve from a past boyfriend) would not have had the financial resources to get treatment.  These are very personal stories and as each person told me, they were visibly affected by the telling.  Even more personally, I discovered during the ride that two very dear friends were HIV +ve, and I never knew.  That really affects you, I shed many tears that weekend.

So I am very pleased that I did it, I will absolutely do it again.  Even though you are only one person, doing a little bit, you learn what it is like to multiply that many fold to become the wonderful journey that is the AIDS LifeCycle Ride.

Final Thoughts

There are many serious moments in and about the ride, but there are also many wonderfully fun and hilarious moments.  There also is the pleasure of meeting new friends.  So here are some of each down below.