AIDS/LifeCycle 11: Photos from Days 5, 6 and 7

By: SheWired Editors
June 16 2012 4:00 PM

AIDS Lifecycle 2012: Day 5 (Red Dress Day)

As Lifecycle lore goes, many years ago, someone thought that if the riders dressed in red for the 41-mile journey from Santa Maria to Lompoc, which also happens to be one of the hilliest days of the ride, that we would collectively resemble an AIDS ribbon winding through the mountains. It turns out that person was right, but Dress in Red Day, in a crowd rife with creative gays, soon became Red Dress Day. Now, it’s practically imperative that riders come up with a killer costume. Mind you, we’re still riding on bikes, in heat and wind and uphill, but with the added challenge of wigs, tulle, or crinoline.

SheWired’s Associate Editor Boo Jarchow and I decided we would go for something fairly easy to ride in -- after all, I’ve seen people ride in full-length Golden Age era gowns and hats and I just know that’s not for me.  We opted to be Brittany and Santana from Glee since the costumes are red and cheerleading skirts are fairly easy to ride in. Yes, that does pretty much make the oldest cheerleader on the planet. Of course, I got this brilliant idea just a week before the ride and we were left scrambling for accurate costumes. We found the right outfits online but it was too late in the game for the uniform company to embroider the letters for William McKinley High School on the front. Luckily, Boo is pretty crafty that way and she made freakishly realistic letters out of felt and sewed them on during the train ride from LA to SF. I was proud of the purple unicorn I zip-tied to my helmet to make the outfit complete. Several people even called out “On your left Brittany S. Pierce” as they were passing me on those hills.

The day was teeming with brilliant costumes including my favorite idea – Team Lady and the Tramps took on Toddlers and Tiaras, so there were at least a dozen big guys in bloomers, blond ringlet curls and heart-shaped sunglasses.

As the day was fairly short and uneventful save for the wondrous array of red, I’ll skip right to lunch hosted by the Rest Stop 4 guys who’d put together a The Voice-themed stop where riders were performing karaoke to crew members dressed as Blake, Christina, Cee-Lo and Adam. The whole thing was so incredibly silly that at one point I laughed till I cried (I’m sure there was likely some exhaustion in there).

We rode in to camp at about 2:30 at Gaviota State Park, where the sign warning against mountain lions and rattle snakes always makes me happy I do the princess tour in hotels.

Red Dress Day really is about the visuals, so the photos tell it best. 

Day 5:

One of the Toddlers. 

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With our friends Rob and Will. 

With my friend Tan. 

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With our friend Ben.

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The Voice! 

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The Lifeguards.

Tent City

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Day 6:

The second to last day of the ride takes us 86 miles from Lompoc to Ventura through Santa Barbara and the adorable beach side community Carpinteria, although the ride out of Lompoc to Rest Stop 1 is a bit of a 16-mile incline and slog. Once past the first rest stop however it’s pretty smooth, flat sailing. The main issue for me on Day 6 would be, of course, my saddle problems, and the heat. For the first time all week it felt like summer – a hot summer—although my iPhone app had promised it would be in the 70s. I’m never trusting that iPhone app again.

Not all of Lifecycle is rainbows and ice cream. There are real dangers when 2,200 cyclists are attempting to navigate narrow roadways in traffic. I like to think of myself as a very careful rider, but I know that accidents happen.  I rode out of the first rest stop down the Gaviota Pass, a truly stunning vista. Later, I would find out that a couple of riders crashed on the pass, one of whom I’d met three days earlier when we were battened down in the artichoke restaurant in the frigid rain. A few days later I discovered that he’d gotten a concussion in the accident but that he was doing just fine. Still, it’s stories like those that drive home the precariousness of riding so far and how looking out for each other is imperative.

At Rest Stop 2 at El Capitan Beach just north of Santa Barbara I posed for photos with my ride friends. There are so many people I’ve trained with throughout the year who’ve become my Lifecycle family.

Next it was off to lunch, but what most riders had on their brains was Paradise Pit, an ice cream stop at about mile 60 that the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce has erected for the past 17 years of The California AIDS Ride and Lifecycle. Members of the Chamber dole out scoops of delicious ice cream replete with our choice of toppings. And the port-a-potties they set up have the soap and running water – as opposed to the sanitizer we grow accustomed to at most rest stops. I know I have a tendency to wax on about bathrooms on the ride but when one of the mottos is “Drink, ride, pee” you have to expect the potties to figure in rather significantly.

Paradise Pit arrives after a leisurely cruise on the bike path in Santa Barbara that runs along the beach. This year I overheard people who’d never been there talking about how beautiful it was, and again, I took a moment to consider myself lucky to live in Southern California.

After the Pit we blew through Carpinteria and on to the 101 for a bit before arriving at the final Rest Stop 4 of the ride, which features a DJ and dancing by the ocean just north of Ventura. The theme this year was Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. These elaborate costumes always make me wonder what the hell their luggage looks like.

The day ended in Ventura at San Buenaventura State Beach. That night, following camp announcements there is a candlelit vigil, which I’ve missed on my prior two Lifeycles. Thousands of riders, roadies and family –many loved ones drive up from around LA to visit—walked silently to the beach carrying lit candles to pay tribute to those we’ve lost. Once everyone was on the beach and we raised our candles in remembrance we walked to the water to extinguish them. As careful as I thought I was being, a wave lapped up to kiss my Converse, and I was soaked through. Rather than concentrate on the wet sand in my shoes I chose to think of it as those I loved letting me know they were there.

Rest Stop 1

El Capitan State Beach 

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Pink Squirrels 

Smurf Village at Rest Stop 3

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Rest Stop 4 Beyond Thunderdome. 

Bike Parking in Ventura. 

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Day 7:

The final day of the ride is rife with dueling emotions, joy at getting off of the bike seat and some respite and sorrow at having to leave it all behind for another year. There are dozens of recurring, beloved characters on the ride. One enduring figure is “The Chicken Lady,” who’s real name is Ken. Ken has ridden for years and years in a chicken costume doling out plastic eggs with messages of hope inside them. In wind, rain and searing heat the Chicken Lady is continually smiling – a true ray of light for anyone who rides near her. I don’t know her story – the reasons why she rides every mile spreading messages of hope and love, but I vow to find out this year. Between sunset on Day 6 and sunrise on Day 7 The Chicken Lady assembles enough eggs for every rider and places one on each bike seat held in place with an elastic band. For those of you keeping track, this year, that was 2,200 eggs. When we riders head to bike parking in the morning we are greeted with an egg from the Chicken Lady.

Day 7 takes us 62 miles from Ventura to the coast, onto the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, to Santa Monica and inland to the finish line at the V.A. Center in Westwood.

By the final day my muscles are typically shot, but this year the lactic acid build up wasn’t too bad. I felt pretty strong tackling the five rolling hills through Malibu.

After a quick lunch stop at Malibu Bluffs my friend Ben and I rode down PCH on what has become our training stomping ground. We met up with Boo at the Starbucks on 26th street and San Vicente in Brentwood so that we could ride in to the finish together.

At just about 2 p.m. we rolled in to the revamped finish line with a gauntlet of family, friends and onlookers cheering us on. Between the cheering and P!nk’s “Raise Your Glass” playing as we rode in I got pretty choked up realizing everything we’d gone through to get to that point – the training, the endless fundraising that I know drove some of my Facebook fans crazy, the anecdotes from those living with HIV/AIDS and the actual 545-mile journey.

We stayed for closing ceremonies where we cheered ourselves on and reminisced about the week past. A rider took the podium and shared with the crowd his triumphant story that 10 years ago he was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS, where seven opportunistic infections had taken hold. He said that he’d been afraid to get tested – fear of stigma—and by the time he finally did he was fighting for his life. Thanks to organization like the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center he was afforded access to medication and medical services he needed to live. On that stage, on that day, in Westwood, he had just ridden his bicycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It was a heartrending reminder of why we were all there.

Boo and I walked to bike parking to pick up our bikes for the last time of the ride, and as we walked them past the registration tent for AIDS Lifecycle 12 (2013) we looked at each other, handed our bikes off to our friends to hold and registered for another year. It’s just what I do now. It’s become a part of me. 

Lunch at Malibu Bluffs

One last pic at lunch. 

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Rendezvous at Starbucks to ride in. 

Ben and Boo

The Finish Line!!! 

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We raised a lot of money! 

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