(Dr. Sally Scrutchin, an active member of the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce, christens a new office at 444 Estudillo Street this evening at 5:30 pm. Below is a lightly edited version of the thank you she sent out to supports after participating in a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles bicycle ride that raised $12.6 million to combat AIDS.)
Recently, I finished AIDS/LifeCycle - arriving at the Los Angeles VA center to hundreds of people cheering and my new (and old) family of over 2,200 cyclists and 500 roadies that had made an incredible week long journey down the California coast with me.
I wish I could have had you all with me as I climbed up all those hills and flew down the coast. I would love to let you feel every high and low, every bit of laughter and tears. To let you know what it feels like to be in what everyone happily calls the AIDS/LifeCycle "Love Bubble".
The Sunday morning that we were to take off I woke up with probably about 4 hours of sleep - more excited than I've ever been for an adventure. My mom drove me to the Cow Palace long before the sun came up.
You could feel all of the excitement and nerves as you entered the Cow Palace and saw thousands of cyclists stretching and preparing for the 80+ miles we would be doing for that day.
Opening ceremonies are always a combination of somber remembrance of why we are gathered as well as excitement for what we had already accomplished just by being there. The participants of AIDS/LifeCycle 11 had raised over $12.6 million!!
We rode out on a chilly San Francisco morning to cheers from people along the roads. The sunshine was soon out and we flew out to the coast over the highway 92 hills and then down to Santa Cruz.
We started our love/hate affair with port-a-potties, Clif Bars, and Gatorade. We were cheered on by groups of people at the top of the big climbs, and we were thanked by people on the side of the road who held photos of loved ones lost to this horrible disease.
By the time we reached Santa Cruz that evening my heart was bursting with all of these emotions. We made camp and I was lucky enough to have a couple of dear friends come by to say hi and cheer me on that evening before it was time to sleep and prepare for the next day.
I was ready for Day 2 to be an adventure - at 109 miles it was going to be my longest day of riding ever. We would ride down the coast towards Monterey and then head inland. This day has so many highlights including the fried artichoke stand (yum!), Cookie Lady (who bakes thousands of cookies every year for the cyclists) and the Otter Pop Stop. OK, yes, sometimes our days of riding are centered around food! The sunshine of the day before had left us for clouds and a 30% chance of rain, but we were still having a fabulous time when the first raindrops hit. A few sprinkles can't hurt us, right? So we kept pedaling.
By the time I reached lunch at mile 48 I was wetter, muddier, and colder than I'd ever been in my life. But I got my lunch and looked for a friend crazy enough to head back out into the storm with me. Many people where already placing their bikes in the "to be sagged" racks and looking for a bus to camp. As I tried to figure out how to fashion a mylar blanket and a black trash bag into a reasonable outfit for riding, the first talk of the route being shut started.
By the time I was warmly wrapped in my blanket and got my teeth to stop chattering, it was official - no one was allowed to leave lunch. The roads were too cold and dangerous. So I have to confess to you that I did in fact only ride about 480 miles last week - I hope you will forgive me. The staff and volunteers of AIDS/LifeCycle executed their emergency procedures and they safely moved the 1600 cyclists and bicycles that could not complete the day to our next camp in King City. I was lucky enough to be back in camp fairly quickly, but I do hear I missed an awesome Mylar Blanket Fashion Show that took place in a community center that took in a large group of cyclists. (If you go to aidslifecycle.org you can see many videos and photos of the things I am describing here.)
Day 3 was a spectacular 67 mile ride from King City to Paso Robles. We got to climb the infamous "Quadbuster" hill. I have to thank my wonderful training ride leaders for preparing my so well - I sailed up with without a problem. Day 3 also features lunch in the little 120 person town of Bradley - where they hold a fundraising barbecue and bake sale. With over 2,000 hungry cyclists excited to be eating something other than a sandwich in saran wrap, they raised $14,000 to fund their entire afterschool program for the next year.
This is just one of the many stories of how AIDS/LifeCycle spreads the giving spirit throughout our trip. A group of cyclists that took shelter in a church during the storm on day 2 raised $400 to give to that community, and the Rest Stop 4 roadies raised $4000 for the mission that hosted their stop on day 3. This is the heart of AIDS/LifeCycle and some of my favorite stories to share. By the end of day 3 I was tired but happy, with my only complaint being that my exuberance early in the morning had led me to injure my achille's tendon. The good news was that it mostly created problems while walking and not riding, so I was good to go for the next day.
Day 4 was, for me, the hardest day of the ride. A 98 mile journey from Paso Robles to Santa Maria that includes the big climb up the "Evil Twins" to reach the halfway point of the ride, stunning coastal views, and then some really nasty headwinds and crosswinds as exhaustion set in for the afternoon. The effort of 3 hard days of riding was catching up and my body was telling me that this might not have been my best idea ever. What was I thinking signing up to ride 7 days in a row?? As we battled the afternoon winds I really questioned my sanity, but I had a couple of dear friends to ride with and we all made it through relatively unscathed. Needless to say it was a good night of sleep.
The reward for surviving Day 4 of AIDS/LifeCycle, though, is the fun of Day 5 - known as "Red Dress Day". It's a short day at 42 miles (though it is full of plenty of hills that everyone fails to mention to newbie riders). You can sleep in a bit and then enjoy the fun of a camp of thousands of cyclists dressed in some outrageous costumes.
For me it was a red tutu, corset, and ladybug wings. I have to wonder what the town of Santa Maria thinks as this spectacular parade rides through once a year. The inspiration for red dress day is that the trail of cyclists in red going up the hills brings to mind the AIDS ribbon. This day, for me, wiped away any lingering frustration and pain from the day before. I hardly even minded that my outfit may not have been the most practical - though I think next year I might consider one that allows me to breathe as I climb up those hills! We laughed and stopped for every ridiculous photo. We were back in camp early enough to really relax and rejuvenate and enjoy the evening before heading to bed for another big day of riding.
Day 6 took us 83 beautiful miles from Lompoc to Ventura. We spent most of the day with spectacular views of the California coast. At this point in the ride I was feeling fabulous. I knew I was past the hump and would have no problem making it to LA. I flew down the coast, finally keeping up with a friend who is a much stronger and faster rider than I usually am. There was no more rain and wind, just beautiful scenery and the love bubble of AIDS/LifeCycle in full swing. We were shown even more love in Santa Barbara, where they host Paradise Pit, a big ice cream party for the cyclists. I don't know that a mint chocolate chip ice cream sundae has ever tasted better than it did that day. By the time we parked our bikes at our beach campground that night, I knew I'd be signing up to ride again next year. I was surprised by some dear friends that had been unable to ride this year but wanted to participate in the the candlelight vigil - a beautiful period of silence and remembrance for all that has been lost and the suffering that needs to end.
Finally we were there - Day 7 of AIDS/LifeCycle! I couldn't have gotten more than 4 hours of sleep the night before, but that didn't matter. It was a day of joy and sadness. Could we ride to San Diego on Day 8? I wasn't ready for this journey to end! I would be saying goodbye for another year to too many people I love and to a community that represents what the "real world" should be. I spent the morning flying down the road and reveling in this amazing experience.
For the afternoon, my group of 4 friends that had been riding together throughout the week regrouped so that we could spend the last miles together and ride into LA together. Just before 2pm we rode into the Los Angeles VA center.
It's hard to explain what it felt like in those moments with hundreds of people cheering and the realization of what we had accomplished. Did I really just ride my bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles? That can't be possible, right? If you had told me even 2 years ago as I volunteered on my first ride that I would be able to not only do it, but LOVE it, I would have laughed at you.
But there I was celebrating and basking in the accomplishment. This was the time to soak up all of the hugs and AIDS/LifeCycle love that I'd be carrying home with me soon. Closing ceremonies are always a mix of celebration and sadness. The opening and closing ceremonies have always featured a riderless bicycle to remember those who are not there to ride with us today... but this year a new tradition was started.
As the ceremony concluded, an 8 year old girl was placed on the bicycle, pedaling as a symbol of a new generation who should never have to face the destruction of this disease. Tears flowed throughout the crowd and even sitting here writing this story I get goosebumps from the emotion of that moment. We now end with hope instead of sadness.
Paying It Forward
With that, my AIDS/LifeCycle 11 journey was over - but I will never be the same. I am now a cyclist, capable of riding for 7 days. I found more strength than I ever knew I had. I was touched by an amount of love that is hard to explain and I will spend the next years paying it forward.
This year instead of just training, I will be joining the team of training ride leaders that helped make sure I made it through every milestone. They gave me the love and encouragement I needed to dust myself off after every fall and keep going when the hills seemed to big. That is how a girl who never rode a bike more than 17 miles in a day became someone who was genuinely disappointed to miss the opportunity to ride 109 miles in one go.
I can't say thank you enough to each of you. It was your love, support, hugs, and of course donations that made this journey possible. I carried each of your names on my helmet as we rode out on day 1 and in my heart throughout the ride. I hope through the stories you have been able to experience some of the Love Bubble yourselves!