At the end of each day's ride on the 2019 Lifecycle, I tapped some notes on my phone. I'm putting them on my personal page to bring my donors along with my journey on the trip.
An incredible and challenging first day on the ride. Strong headwinds from the minute we hit the coast made me earn every mile. But we were rewarded with beautiful scenery and a new appreciation for the role of carbohydrates in my life
It was 82 miles or 135km, take your pick.
I was expecting to have more time for contemplation and wonder. But really it is a hard day of work, no time for higher order brain functions. Singing songs to myself carried me up many hills
Copy paste this link to see my ride replayed as a video:
Monday was a long old day. First, the ride. We started through Santa Cruz with equal amounts of supportive and puzzled locals. Imagine seeing 2200 butts in Lycra in your way to work. Beautiful views of the foggy coast.
After an unexpected 14% climb that Sharif and I called Bastard Block 2, we left the town behind, went through our final redwoods and started working towards the industrial farmland of California’s Central Valley. Hundred of acres of farm land worked by as many people. You can see the rectangles from space, and from this video.
After day 1’s strong headwind we hit the jackpot today with a strong tailwind that made our long straight stretches zoom past. Tailwind or not, there is something truly magical about propelling myself along at 40kph. It feels like flying
Anyway it was still a long old day, the longest ride I’ve ever had at 110miles. I didn’t sleep that night so much as pass out
You can also see the best of humanity that support this ride. Locals cheer us on, hold up signs remembering loved ones who fell to AIDS, or even just waving yet another hundred cyclists past at a stop sign. Much love all around. And that’s not even to mention the local woman who opened her farm for us to host a dance party complete with bears in tutus. She also baked us 2000 cookies which she gave away for free. She started cooking in March! I didn’t get her name because she was dressed up as Elton John.
If Day 2 was long Day 3 was hot. The temperature topped 36C by my phone, but other riders said it topped 104F or 40C. Crikey. The sun was powerful and the wind baked us dry. I saw people taking ice at rest stops and stuffing it just about everywhere they could. I was putting dehydration tablets in Powerade and still not peeing. We stopped cycling at lunch, travelling the last 20 miles of the day by bus. No part of me wanted to continue cycling.
Having given you an idea of the terrible conditions, the ride itself was beautiful. We completed the most famous climb of the ride early in the day, the so-called QuadBusters. It is a challenging climb, but my training again put me in a good place. The rest of the day was pretty flat, and did I mention hot?
The strawberry farms of the last two days are gone, replaced largely by cattle properties and vineyards. God knows what kind of grapes survive this heat, probably the punchy reds that I stopped trying to like in my 20s. And those poor cattle, they must have dried into beef jerky as they stood there.
I also had my first flat of the trip, and within seconds of pulling over I was joined by 5 friends to help me out. Since we were all gay men, Dan stepped into the role of bossy lesbian and directed us all.
Today we began in the same terrain as day 3, red scorched earth with brittle grass and wildflowers. It’s very different from the Bay Area greenery I trained in, and reminded me of Central Queensland where I grew up. It also explains how certain I was we should stop riding yesterday - my Australian safety instincts kicked in.
The sun was strong from the second it rose, but we left early so our first hours of riding were trigger-free for me. Today’s challenge was two hills named the Evil Twins. They were long, slow grinds up and up. I also noticed with much pride and some schaudenfreude that I was overtaking skinnier cyclists wearing more expensive gear than me. Have I mentioned how much I trained this year?
There were a lot of other rewards for the climbs. First, that fucking heat was cut back down by cool coastal breezes. Then there is the obligatory “Halfway to LA” photo op. Because everyone wants one, it took an hour to get through. It’s also the start of a long, excellent decent that is one of the most rewarding cycling experiences in my life. Long straight sections of road slowly curve around the mountains, revealing new views every kilometre or two. Truly joyous.
They limit the number of riders who can exit at once to improve our safety. Something must have gone wrong for someone because we were held for 30 minutes before anyone could leave. After a total of 90 minutes of not cycling, we were far behind our schedule and I had to rush to stay ahead of where they closed the route. I did find time for an enormous warmed cinnamon roll and the first real coffee I’ve had in four days. That took the edge off hunting through my pack trying to find leftover snacks from previous rest stops to stay one step ahead of my appetite.
After all this I still had 100km to travel. The California coast was foggy as usual, but with no real climbs left I managed to spread the last of my energy across the rest of the ride.
Day 5 was a shorter day that I took as a gentle riding day to give my body a bit of a break. There were two decent climbs, as we once again climbed out of valleys and started working our way towards the coastline. Otherwise it was mostly joyously flat.
Today was the last day on the ride that we spent entirely inland. Palm trees appeared more often, welcoming us to SoCal, but we were still spotting dead rattlesnakes on the road so I knew the desert was nearby. We cycled through rural towns that seemed quant but also precarious. In one I saw a vacant building that was once a post office and houses where the desert had stripped the paint many years ago. Was that truck a wreck or maintained enough to still be in service? It put a new light on the almost daily fundraising by the schools hosting our rest stops along the route.
And today, five days into the journey, I began to appreciate that i was part of a group of 2200 mostly LGBT people on this journey together. Of course at the surface level this came to light because it was Red Dress Day, so there were plenty of guys including Sharif and me who had put a dress over our cycling gear. I loved cycling next to Dolly Parton, Dark Phoenix or a group of Jessica Rabbits (complete with rabbit). Or the group of girls who wore boiled suits with patches and fake tattoos who described their look as “just lesbians”.
Growing up gay in rural Australia meant that I consciously hid the queerer parts of my personality. And today, in rural California, I felt deeply at home with this group of oddballs: camp and showy, or reserved and tentative, or even just straight and along for the ride.
Day 6 was definitely the most beautiful day of the week. We started again with a long, satisfying climb and descent. I’ve already written about the pride in seeing the payoff of my training and the magic of cycling fast downhill. The strength of my feeling supersedes my ability to find new ways to describe it. So instead I’ll cut to the chase - “wheeeeeeee”.
After the descent we went along the coast for almost the entire day. Finally I routinely saw the iconic views of the California coast. The rest stops went from being isolated oases of electrolytes and chamois butter, to destinations I wanted to spend the day. There was a chilled out picnic area first, and then later in the day I pulled into a rest stop blaring “Wannabe” to a packed dance floor. It was a good reminder that the rides many sponsors include Powerade and Grindr.
Over the course of the day we left the precarious communities of central California and went through the rich coastal cities of Santa Barbara and Ventura. The roads were busier and better maintained. And finally google maps once again revealed coffee shops along the route.
When you cycle long distances you get used to hearing a wide variety of noises from your bike. Your chain never sounds as clean as you’d like, your gears start then stop squeaking, and there are so many more components underneath your butt that you count on without knowing what that do. Today I heard a large metallic twang from my frame. But my bike kept its momentum, and I assumed I had run over something that hit my frame. A few kilometres later, someone yelled out that my rear wheel was no longer true. I stopped and found it could no longer rotate without hitting my brake pad. Not long later, a support vehicle stopped and gave me a lift to the next rest stop where a bike tech found that a spoke had broken off. The camaraderie of the whole ride meant that my biggest frustration was having to stop my strava tracking so it didn’t count the cars speed as my own.
The final day, finally here. The ride was great, again long stretches by the ocean but in heavier traffic. Gone are the polite drivers of North and Central California, LA drivers cut you off and take their whole lane. But regardless, coming into the gay mecca of West Hollywood along Santa Monica Boulevard felt like a real victory procession.
This has been an exhausting week and today was no exception. My quads felt like they’d been attacked by jellyfish and my knees throbbed. My lower back had felt brittle since day two, but a massage on day five had restored normal movement there. And I was lucky, judging from the queues at sports medicine and the volume of strapping tape applied to my fellow riders.
I want to give thanks to everyone who helped my in this journey: Dan, Marek, Andy, Adam, Scott, Maggie, Joe, Dawn, John, Eric, Jumper, Donovan, Michael, Manu, Amber, Sasha and many, many more. You encouraged me, supported me and trained me. Thanks to all my friends who supported me and my donors who helped me raise of $6k to end AIDS.
I’d like to wrap up with an appreciation of the teams who complete the ride and as an Australian, celebrate the sassy wordplay in their names. Sharif and I were part of the New Bear Republic - a combination of the gay subculture bears and the Californian Bear Flag revolt in the 1840s. I also loved cycling alongside the Wilderness Gurrrls of America, the Buttered Muffins, the Gay Scouts (not real scouts, but really gay), the Iron Taints (they should be so lucky), Taint’d Love, She Spokes, Funky Monkeys, BOB aka Boys On Bikes, Wheely Nice Guys (great tuxedo uniforms), team Carol (ask them why they are called that sometime), ALCaholics, PosPeds, the Rough Riders, Team Chula, Canadian Bacon and so many, many more.
Here’s to 2020!
Thank you for joining me in this cause!
June 2nd - June 8th, over 3,000 Cyclists, Roadies and Virtual Cyclists will be participating in AIDS/LifeCycle, a 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise funds for the life-saving services offered by San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. This year, I’ll be one of them!
The services provided as a result of this event mean the world to those who receive them, and your support means the world to me.
We’re working together to make HIV/AIDS a thing of the past. Will you support me by making a donation today?
Donating to the AIDS Lifecycle isn't just funding for a cure for AIDS. Your donations benefit the SF AIDS Foundation, which provides free health services to those who can't afford it. What can the SF AIDS Foundation do with this money?
- $1,000 provides 100 gay, bi and queer Black men with 1-on-1 counseling support services for one month. Community is important - especially among communities where stigma is extra high.
- $1,000 enables 80 trans and gender non-binary clients to meet weekly and build meaningful connections. With the current political climate, providing support to trans and non-binary folks is especially important.
- $1,000 provides over 5,000 sterile syringes to prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis C.