OpEd: AIDS/LifeCycle, A Five-Year Journey Through Pain and Kindness

Cyclist David Rae recounts how riding AIDS/LifeCycle has changed his life.

BY David Rae

May 24 2012 7:43 PM ET

AIDS/LifeCycle 11 is coming up so fast I can hardly believe it. This will be my fifth time riding 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and I've had many amazing memories after countless hours in the bike saddle. I’ve landed on my head more than once, and plenty of tears have been shed—both from my eyes and from others’—and I’ve experienced too many random acts of kindness to mention.

Way back in 2007, when I first decided I wanted to do the ride, I went and found the only other person I knew who could put up a tent. I dragged him to the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center and we both signed up for this crazy seven-day adventure. I didn’t have a bike or any cycling gear or really any idea of what I was getting myself into. After several shockingly large shopping trips, I showed up at the “kickoff” ride with no idea how to do anything on or with my bike besides clip in and pedal. Luckily enough, a few veteran riders took me under their wings and helped cure my habit of tipping over at every stop when I forgot to clip out. They also taught me what kind of gear to get for a week on the bike and other crucial cycling tips, like when you don’t eat you will “bonk,” or basically run out of energy. This is not a fun way to ride.

Speaking of not-fun, I have two stories of landing on my head, one’s funny and the other, not so much. Luckily, I survived both. On day 6 of my first ALC, a lovely hammock was set up at a rest stop on the beach in Santa Barbara. I thought what could be more fabulous than a little relaxation before jumping back on my bike. I made a beeline for the hammock and jumped in head first. After coming thumping down on the ground in front of everyone, it became extremely apparent that this hammock was just meant  for show and had given out under my weight. Other than some rosy cheeks, I was no worse for the wear on this one. On another occasion, while training for my second ride, I took a big fall in Malibu, and literally, my face hit the pavement so hard I bounced back upright on the bike, and in the process of coming to a stop I wore off the entire bottom of both bike tires. I also crossed lanes and slid into the guar rail on the far side of the road up near the top of Latigo Canyon. I sat there for 15 minutes (or maybe two minutes—I was in shock, so I’m not really sure). I was too shaken to get my phone out of my pocket to call my friend who was ahead of me on the route. Luckily, I came away with nothing more than a broken bike, a scraped-up body, and just a copayment for the few hours I spend in a local hospital’s urgent care unit getting cleaned up. Fortunately, I was still able to host my annual AIDS Life/Cycle fund-raiser at my house, and running on sheer adrenaline (boosted by pain meds) was able to bring in a few extra thousand for this important cause from the 500 or so guests squeezed into my home. After some magic from the bike mechanics, my bike was repaired, and I continued training for and eventually completed my second LifeCycle.

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