Blogger John Pierson is cycling as one of thousands of riders in AIDSLifecycle, and he's been riding since the weekend from San Francisco southerly. Yesterday was Day 2 and it was rained out and foul conditions for internet posting, so he catches us up with this post covering Day 2 and Tuesday, Day 3.
Monday (Day 2, Delayed)
I'm sorry I missed you all yesterday! Blogging from an iPad is difficult when you're in civilization, let alone a camp site!
As I looked back over the previous posts I put up, I realized I've neglected to tell you about my training and fundraising team. You see, one doesn't train for a 7-day bike ride across the state, and raise money for charity, by himself.
I've been very fortunate to discover Team Long Beach while signing up for the event at a local information session last October. Made up of 75-to-80 members who live all across the city, and even into parts of Orange County, Pasadena, and the San Gabriel Valley, Team Long Beach has trained every Saturday morning since the beginning of the year to prepare ourselves for this event. We did several fundraisers over the last few months with the support of local businesses like Paradise Bar and Grill, and even with sidewalk tabling events along Second Street in Belmont Shore. It's an incredible group of people, who worked hard to become the top fundraising team in Southern California for this event, bringing in more than $300,000 before rollout last Sunday! In addition to learning from their example when it comes to fundraising, I learned a few lessons about what it means to ride for a cause from our veteran riders.
Several months ago, my tent mate and I had stalled in our fundraising, about $300 short of our $3,000 minimuum. So we decided to make a bet: whomever could raise the $3,000 first would get to dress the other for one day of their choosing on the ride.
Yesterday morning, Day 2, saw me dressed in a pair of cycling shorts, a coconut bra, a lei, Hello Kitty sunglasses, and a Hello Kitty helmet made by a generous neighbor. Yesterday also turned out to be one of the coldest, wettest, rainiest days on the ride since it began back in 1994 as the California AIDS Ride. We set out that morning in the relatively warm city of Santa Cruz, and made our way into the rainy, windy Salinas Valley. Along the way I got asked several times if I was cold, which I was, but it was mostly bearable so I pedaled on. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 miles along the route, I arrived at a produce stand selling deep-fried artichoke hearts. My teammates and I stopped and one of them, Ed, gave me a mylar blanket he carries with him. I was tremendously grateful for the thin, silver plastic that reflected my body heat back at me, and felt a lot better. I decided it was time to ride on, as we were to complete a 109-mile journey yesterday, and did so wearing a trash bag with holes cut in it for my head and arms. In spite of my new layer, I was still quite cold, and made a tough decision at the lunch stop.
Forty-nine miles into the day, I asked the folks at the medical tent if I should keep riding. They looked at me, mildly shivering and dressed in a trash bag with Hello Kitty ears, and told me if I was doubting my ability I should quit. It was disheartening news, to say the least. I worked hard, with the support of a lot of friends, family, and colleagues, to raise the $5,600 that would go to HIV/AIDS prevention. There are thousands of people in California, living with HIV, who are dependant on the services of the LA Gay and Lesbian Center to survive. If I gave up less than halfway through the day, wasn't I letting those people down?
As my throat tightened, and tears ran down my face, mixing with sunscreen, mud and water, Ed told me I wasn't letting them down.
"I'm out here riding," he told me, "for all the people who can't ride for themselves."
He reminded me that we had 5 more days of riding to get through, and it was more important to make it to tomorrow than to get hypothermia today. And, while I was cold and shivering, several people did get hypothermia. They had to be wrapped in blankets, heat packets stuffed in their clothes, and placed in support vehicles with the heater turned up. In the end, the event coordinators closed the route for the day just a few minutes after I made my decision to stop. It helped me learn that quitting isn't the same as giving up when it means you'll live to ride another day.
I'd like to take a moment to say "Thank You" to the people of Salinas, as well. I was one of many who took shelter in the local community college while we waited for buses to arrive and take us to King City, but many others at an earlier stop on the route took shelter in a nearby church. The gracious people of that church took my fellow cyclists in, despite our rambunctious nature and outrageous costumes, and gave us a place to get dry and warm, as well as buy us pizza. I'm so grateful the riders there were thoughtful enough to take up a collection and donate back to the church.
That's the best part of an event like this. The spirit of community, and family you develop with 2300 strangers is infectious.
Tuesday, Day 3
A small town in southern Monterey County, Bradley, has a population somewhere in the low 100's, and a very underfunded school district.
Every year the ride passes through Bradley, California, and the school children their show up with their parents to host us for lunch. They serve us hamburgers and chips, and we make a donation that helps keep their education programs running. If you show up at the right time, as I did today, you get to see the kids walking single-file down the street, while we ride in, chanting "Go AIDS ride! Go Bradley!" Two girls even changed the lyrics of a Justin Bieber song to be about cycling instead of a breakup.
One local woman told me that our lunch donations would go toward the school programs, and that any donations given to the cupcake sale, t-shirt sale, and massage table set up to the side of the barbecue would benefit a scholarship fund to encourage high school students to go to college. Recipients of the scholarship have gone on to graduate from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and several other schools.
While the people of this small town all expressed their gratitude toward us riders for coming through and buying lunch from them, we're all grateful for the opportunity they give to us. We fundraise for this event, and it can often seem like a very abstract thing we do. Our fundraising doesn't occur in HIV testing clinics (commonly, at least), and you can't pick an HIV-positive person out of a crowd unless they've identified themselves somehow. Here we get to eat lunch, buy a cupcake, and see the results of that donation and purchase right in the very town that will benefit from it. After yesterday's (Monday's) low, today was a real high point for me.
We're spending the night at the Mid-State fairgrounds in Paso Robles tonight, and riding 97 miles to Santa Maria Wednesday morning. Hopefully cell reception there will allow me to tell you all about riding through the Central Coast, and getting ever closer to home in Long Beach!