by Mickey Darius, Ticketfly Sales Team
I had been wanting to do the ALC (AIDS Life Cycle) for the better part of a decade, but always found a very viable excuse to steer clear of actually doing it (work’s too busy, haven’t been riding enough, who will pay my local bar’s rent, etc.). When I found out that a good friend of mine, long time ALC rider and captain of the team I rode with (Team WINO) had been hit by a car, requiring 22 pins/4 plates in order to repair his crushed hip/pelvis and also obviously taking him out of the saddle for this year’s ride, I decided there was no longer room for hesitation. Before the ride started, I was absolutely amazed at the outpouring of support from my friends, family and Ticketfly. I was also surprised to find out that everything helped. A significant financial donation was sometimes just as motivating to me as a heartfelt word of thanks from someone that I knew didn’t have the cash to put in, but was moved that I had finally decided to join in this fight. And so began my journey from San Francisco to LA.
San Francisco-Santa Cruz: 82 miles
Soon after opening ceremonies started, I knew I was in the right place. There was an immediate sense of community that didn’t seem forced or contrived, as riders were literally riding for their lives, the lives of loved ones, or just complete strangers that need a little help. After about 40 more miles, lots of on-your-left’s and some slow rolling/lots of stopping, downtown Santa Cruz riding, Team WINO finally rolled into camp. I was stunned when I saw the grid of tents…about 1,200 of them. It was then that I really started to realize the scope of what was going on.
Santa Cruz-King City: 110 miles
As we trickled out of Santa Cruz, the mileage for the day had me a tad worried, since I had never ridden that far. That being said, I had my crew and the confidence of my donors, so I knew it was going to happen. What I did not know was that along with the longest mileage of the ride, we were also going to experience the worst weather. By the end of the day, 1,500 riders had to be bussed back to camp, as the ride organizers and the CHP closed the route, due to dangerous/hypothermic conditions (rain, hail, wind, cold, dangerous traffic, etc). Of the 2,300 riders that left that morning, 800 of us were leading the pack and just barely escaped getting bussed back too. When we heard that riders were getting picked up and that the previous rest stop was getting shut down, the testosterone/adrenaline kicked in and this chunk of Team WINO knew it was time to hit the road, if we wanted to complete the course. I had already gone a good 10+ miles where I was shivering uncontrollably and couldn’t feel my fingers/toes. It wasn’t until just after this rest stop that things started to look up. We hit a store, so that brother Jack (airplane sized) could shed some warmth. Shortly after that, the rain abated and the sun decided to make its debut for the day. With the sun out and about 30 miles to go, it was time to shed some layers and crush it to the finish…simply put, I felt beat up and was sick of being on the road. It was then that I had another realization…the folks that I was riding for feel 100x worse than this…on a daily basis. Granted, what the ride dealt us that day was pretty brutal, but it was nothing in comparison. This thought helped me back to camp (and helped me hit my high speed for the ride). I will say, I do not remember a hot shower EVER feeling as good as it did that day.
King City-Paso Robles: 67 miles
Today is the day of the dreaded Quadbuster. Rolled out of camp with the crew at a steady pace, ready to tackle one of the steepest climbs of the ride. 2 of our WINOs got off their bikes at the top and cheered on the folks behind them, who were struggling up this mother. The cheers from other riders pushed me in to a gear that I didn’t know was in there. A little about the rest stops…each rest stop crew is the same and each individual rest stop has it’s own theme. The rest stop 4 crew is infamous for being the most outlandish. This proved to be true, day after day. Today, the theme was Best Little 4House In Texas.
Paso Robles-Santa Maria: 98 miles
I couldn’t wait to hit the road today, despite having done a little carbo loading (beer drinking) with the team, the night before. Today was when we were to hit the halfway point to LA, just after riding up a couple hills. By a couple hills, I refer to the “Evil Twins” who are quite aptly named. Just when I thought we were hitting the top, it kept on coming, but when it eventually plateaued and the view opened up, there wasn’t anywhere else I would have rather been. Unfortunately, this was also the start of an injury that plagued me for the rest of the trip. I had never had an achilles injury before, but had heard horror stories and was dreading the possibilities that lay before me. Thank god for Sarah and the sports med team. I visited her every morning @ 6 to get re-taped and it was like magic. I truly could not have made it, if it were not for her and the rest of that crew.
Santa Maria-Lompoc: 42 miles
What started out as the ALC tradition of dress in red day, in support of AIDS awareness, had been co-opted and turned in to red dress day (no shocker here). This was the shortest day of the ride and I had been under the impression that it was to be a pretty cake day. Nobody told me about the f**king hills. They had no catchy names and nobody talked about them, but they were every bit as daunting as the 2 previous days’. As we charged up these hilly switchbacks though, I completely forgot about my fatigue, as I witnessed what looked like a giant red ribbon making it’s way up the mountain. This was another of the many incidences where the efforts of many were reflected as 1 cause and 1 community.
Lompoc-Ventura: 83 miles
Not sure what got into the squad, but you’d have thought it was a race. No matter the miles that our bodies had already pedaled, Team WINO was FLYING today. It was one of the most picturesque days, but there was no time for picture taking…there were miles to devour. On night 6 is the annual candlelight vigil. This floored me. 2,300+ folks with lit candles in their hand (representing those that have been afflicted with HIV/AIDS), all sitting on the beach, silent, reflecting on the past, what we are all doing together and how to honor those that have been lost. On an unspoken cue, everyone started to stand and walk to the shoreline, where the candles were extinguished. This isn’t an experience that I can accurately put in to words and I don’t want to lessen it’s impact, but seeing all those candles on the beach and the anguish in many of the faces really helped make what/who we were fighting for that much more tangible.
Ventura-Los Angeles: 60 miles
Last day and even though I think everyone was ready to be off their saddles, there was also an overwhelming sense of sadness, knowing that the conclusion of this ride was in site. As we hit Malibu, Team Wino regrouped one last time and prepared for the team line in to LA. I dreaded wrapping this up. I had never been with a group of people like this – some that I knew closely and some that I didn’t know at all – where there was such an openness and unity. We’d all been in the trenches together and all came out the other side together. We’d been cheered on by fellow riders and strangers that had posted themselves on the side of the road. We all came together when it mattered. Once the finish line had been crossed, it was time to decompress for a minute, but then closing ceremonies started and things got heavy. One of the most powerful speeches came from a first time rider. He explained that, years back, he had been living a 6 figure income, carefree lifestyle…until he had become diagnosed with full blown AIDS. Due to frequent doctor visits and the cost of medication, he quickly lost his car, then his job and feared losing his apartment. In his words, he had hit rock bottom. He then went on to explain that the sole thing that brought him back from these depths were the support he got from the SF AIDS foundation, by being provided free meds (that cost upwards of $3,000 a month), counseling and just a safe place to turn to for comfort. This speech was broken by tears, but as he regained his composure, he said that by participating in ALC11, he experienced something completely new to him…he said that he had NEVER been in an environment that was so open, loving and supportive. He then voiced what (I hope) every rider was feeling – that it was of vital importance to take that world…our world…back home (wherever that is) and try to spread that feeling. That was one of the first steps in helping to combat this disease that we had just ridden 545 miles to fight. I truly and deeply thank everyone who helped get me to ALC11…particularly Ticketfly, who not only supported me financially, but also made sure to let me know that they were sincerely glad I was doing this, even though it meant being out of the office for over a week.
To support the SF AIDS Foundation, please donate at www.sfaf.org