Eric Brown: They call the AIDS/LifeCycle camp “The Love Bubble.” But, for many reasons it is so much more than that.
After venturing from San Francisco to Los Angeles from June 3-9, on my Specialized Allez road bike, I realized many things about myself, about the state of California, the people who are riders, the people who are roadies, and, more importantly, about the wonderful work done by the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
About three months ago I decided that I would take the AIDS/LifeCycle challenge. In the meantime, I wrote here that I kept riding because of what the hills I trained on represented. Now, I realize that I rode for so many more reasons that lay just beneath the surface.
I realized that with some dedication and fortitude, I can accomplish a lot more than I ever thought I could. But I wasn’t alone. There were riders on the road that came from almost every state in the union and many foreign countries, who were in a variety of levels of physical fitness, from ages 18 to 81. The common thread that weaved the riders and roadies together was their compassion for one another, for those who have been lost to AIDS-related illnesses, for those who suffer from HIV/AIDS today, and those that they hope to prevent from ever being diagnosed positive. It really was a “Love Bubble.”
But, it was also the “Friendship Bubble,” the “Perseverance Bubble,” and the “California-is-the-most-beautiful-place-in-the-world-Bubble.” That last bubble never seems to go away, though.
During the opening ceremonies at The Cow Palace, which lies just outside of San Francisco, we heard from an inspiring rider who was riding for her mother. Anxiety, fear, and excitement were palpable in The Cow Palace that morning. But then we heard about her mother, a straight woman, who sat her two children down a little over a decade ago to inform them that she was HIV positive. Her mother’s admission of HIV status set the rider on a mission to battle this disease, and she has ridden for the past decade in AIDS/LifeCycle. Her mother was supposed to be a roadie two years ago, but then she was diagnosed with cancer and forced to fight that battle instead. However, like so many people on this ride, no hill is too high or too steep, and no battle is too much to bear, because she defeated cancer, and she is still living healthily with HIV, and this year, she was one of the magnificent roadies who took care of all of us riders this year.
As I sit here today with the raw emotions of completing the ride, I still do not know what to make of it all. I met so many wonderful people who supported one another, who cared for one another in the pouring rain to help the fellow rider and roadie fend off hypothermia on Day Two, who offered a stranger their shoulder to cry on during the candlelight vigil on the final night in camp in Ventura. For seven days, we rooted for one another to climb the “Quadbuster” to tame the “Evil Twins,” and to summit a ridiculous secret set of hills in red dresses (a phrase I never thought I would say in my lifetime). Then it all came crashing to an end.
As I rode my final two miles up San Vicente Boulevard in Santa Monica, the realization that I just accomplished something amazing began to take hold of me. I no longer had to prepare to rest up for the next day’s ride. I didn’t have to use a port-a-potty in camp that night. (Amen!) I just rode my boke from San Francisco to Los Angeles! As I thought about my friends waiting for me at the finish, and the slow tears turned into sobs, I don’t think I had ever been much happier or sad in my life at the same time. I was so happy to have defeated every climb, every mile and every obstacle, just as we will eventually defeat HIV/AIDS. But also, I was sad. I was leaving the “Love Bubble,” the “Friendship Bubble,” the “Perseverance Bubble,” and the “California-is-the-most-beautiful-place-in-the-world-Bubble.” That is, until next year.