Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Ride Report: AIDS/LifeCycle 2018

I'm still reeling over what a fantastic week it's been with AIDS/LifeCycle and the Love Bubble. This year's experience was MUCH different from last year's, and I feel like I'm back as a completely different person.

This year, as many of you know, was a milestone year for me. I crossed a landmark in terms of age, and it with it I wanted to make sure I checked off personal achievements as well. At 28, I completed my first IRONMAN and qualified as an All-World Athlete, placing in the top 10% of my age group. At 29, I did my first ALC ride from San Francisco to LA, and I thought I had done everything. So at 30, I figured, "Why the hell not?" and decided that I would do both an IRONMAN AND the ALC ride, 2 weeks apart.

I know, I'm crazy.

I figured that logically I would be in the best shape of my life if I decided I wanted to bike the 545 miles, but what I didn't anticipate was the lack of training I'd be doing in 2018. Welp. All said and done - I still did it!

Let's recap the week of festivities:



Unlike my ride the year prior, this year's ride was full of last minute additions. Because I already knew what to expect from the ride, I didn't feel the pressure to pack 6 weeks in advance - nor did I feel the pressure to pack even one week in advance. You've got it, folks - I was packing the night before. It was insane. No one should every wait that long to pack a week of their lives into a small bag: especially when it involves camping, lack of electricity, and 90% sun exposure.

Friday was uneventful with the exception of the ALC Sendoff Party at the Lookout and dinner with Robert and Matt. I got to see a lot of familiar faces and met quite a few unfamiliar ones.

Can't take me anywhere.

I knew seeing Mark Witko meant it was going to be a good week. :) 

There were, of course, a few unsightly things that I couldn't unsee that night, but let's just leave it at "I learned a lot and gay culture fascinates me immensely."



I woke up bright and early for our Orientation Saturday morning. Robert and I grabbed breakfast at the hotel before we caught a Lyft over to Cow Palace, where we would be going over the details of the week's events.

Jacob, my emergency contact
Charlie, almost a tri queen

Finally got to meet up with some of the other members of our team!
We were briefed and then shepherded into another giant room to get wristbanded, tagged, and given the ability to check on our bikes. I had shipped Shadow the week prior (another good year with ACE Shipping!) and finally was able to see that she was okay. I forgot to tape my bottles to her and they made it all the way up north, intact and still connected! I took it as a foreshadowing sign of a good ride.

I took an uber to the Ferry Building in SF and met my little brother and his girlfriend Irene for a day of fun before the trip! We had lunch at Roli Roti, took the Ferry to Angel Island, and rode bikes (ironic, I know) around the island.

I love adventures. We had such a blast. The island was only 6 miles round-trip, which was nice. I'd probably go back again just to run or walk the island. Some people kayaked in from Sausalito and were hiking! Glad I got to see a part of San Francisco I hadn't seen before, though.

We met up with Bryan and Alex for dinner at E Tutto Qua, where we gorged on Italian food that definitely proved that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.

The boys dropped me off, I re-packed, and set my alarm for 3:30 am. It was almost time.


SUNDAY. DAY (1). San Francisco to Santa Cruz

I was so excited for the ride that I didn't even need an alarm to wake up. I met up with some of the team in the lobby, our Lyft (an Audi A6!) took us to Cow Palace, and we joined hands with over 2,200 cyclists and 800 roadies, volunteers, and employees in the Opening Ceremonies. Every year, we ride with a red bicycle down the coast. It represents the people who have lived with HIV and were unable to get the treatment they needed. The bike is a reminder that one day, in a world free of AIDS, we won't need the riderless bicycle anymore.

As we headed down to where our bikes were racked, I was stopped by a very friendly person named Emery, who told me he had read my blog and thanked me for recapping my ride last year! What fun. I was so excited to have been recognized in a crowd and acknowledged for doing something that I loved doing in my free time.

By 7am, we were off!

The lumberjacks in Pacifica!

Daly City to Pacifica, San Gregorio State Beach for Lunch, and taking Highway 1 most of the way into Santa Cruz. Total elevation: 4,718 (more than Mt. Baldy!)

Day 1, done.


MONDAY. DAY (2). Santa Cruz to King City

Day 2 has historically been the longest day at 109 miles. It's also known as Orange Safety Day given the mileage and the amount of cars on the road.

As we left Santa Cruz in the morning, we were met with this BEAUTIFUL fog wall. Truth be told, I had never seen anything like it! If I had more time, I probably would have stayed there to watch more of the magic unfold, but since I've notoriously been a stickler for time, I grabbed a quick picture and then continued on my way.

The ride passed rather quickly, and the water stop after Rest Stop 3 led me to one of my favorite parts of the ride: THE OTTER POP STOP!

The Otter Pop Stop is eponymous, but also holds a lot of meaning in the LGBT community. So many things I had to learn as a straight woman going into this, but if it means free ice pops, I'm in!

Despite the long ride, however, we managed to make it in to camp relatively early. Mark and I met up for face masks (you will learn of my love for face masks at a later time), and the boys and I cozied up in the lounge to chat while the sun set.

Day 2, done.

Daily Elevation, 3,251.
Total elevtion, 7,969.
Equivalent to -  Mount Olympus in Washington!


TUESDAY. DAY (3). King City to Paso Robles

Day 3 is Quadbuster Day! People used to say that Quadbuster day was the hardest day. It involves a massive hill that forces grown men to walk sometimes. If you're not in it mentally, you're definitely not in it physically.

I guess I had forgotten how much I had trained for the IRONMAN, because Quadbuster was relatively easy for me! I took my time and wasn't even out of breath when I got to the top.

Side note - there is a team who rides ALC every year named The Cretins, and in short, THEY. ARE. BADASS. They ride all 545 miles on their fixies! SINGLE SPEED SINGLE GEAR. SUCH BADASS.

One of the Cretins was going up Quadbuster as I was going up, and she made it 3/4 of the way before pooping out. I still have so much respect for her because 1. she attempted it. 2. she made it 75% of the way up 3. on a fixie. I can't even.

Day 3 was also one of the shortest days - probably because the day before was so brutal. It was one of the most eventful too. We made a stop in the city of Bradley: POPULATION 1,048. Yep. you read that correctly. Their school of K-8 is reportedly 50 students. What is that, like 6 kids per grade?!

Regardless, the kids are SO SWEET and every year they put on a barbeque fundraiser for all of the cyclists that ride through. We make a donation and can dictate where the money goes: to performing arts, to the sciences, etc. It's great. The kids get to experience so much because of us! This year, we fundraised over $65,000 for the kids at Bradley.

Before I left the school, I happened to see a BEAUTIFUL bird perched on a man's shoulder. As I do with just about every animal, I stooped down and asked if I could pet it! The man told me to hold out my finger, and Andy hopped onto it, no questions asked! I learned that Andy was a 27-year-old bird (he didn't look a day over 3!), and he was just so excited to be there. Quiet and tame... Birds may now be in the running for future pet options.

I caught up to Matt at Camp Roberts, located on the historic El Camino Real (!!!!) and known as the largest California National Guard training installation in the state. They let us climb onto the tanks and peer inside them.

From there, we headed over to Mission San Miguel, built in 1797 and one of only 2 Missions I've ever been to. Last time I wasn't able to go inside, but this time I stayed a little longer to enjoy the scenic wonders of the Catholic Church.

Before I left, I watched one of the shows put on by my favorite rest stop team in the tune of Decades of Divas. 

Got back to camp relatively early, so I hung out at the lounge, finished the book I had started, and enjoyed some ice cream. 2 kinds, actually. It was truly starting to feel like summer.

When I FaceTimed with my sister and Phil that night, however, I started to feel like something was off. My lower lip was starting to swell! Was it the sun? Was it something I ate? Hm.

Regardless, Day 3 was done.

Daily elevation: 2,583
Total Elevatoin: 10,552
Equivalent to: just a bit over Mt. Baldy!


WEDNESDAY. DAY (4). Paso Robles to Santa Maria

Day 4. Halfway to LA day! If you followed along on my journey via social media, you probably know by now that this was both an amazing and a horrible day, all wrapped up into one.

But back to the story.

I woke up with a fatty lower lip. I definitely thought something was wrong, so I went to the medical tent to see someone who could help me. They told me that this was common and that the only solution they had found to work was to soothe the swelling on my lips (it was likely a sunburn) with something they fondly called "lip shit". yes. Lip shit. A mixture of zinc oxide and preparation H (you didn't misread that) that many people had grown to love on the ride. Prolonged exposure to sun was making them crazy too.

I declined the lip shit - Carmex was not going to fail me now and I licked my lips way too much to be ok with lip shit on me - and left for my ride, but visiting the med tent meant that I was going to get a very late start to a very long day of riding.

I handed my luggage off to my grannies, and off we went!

I think because I had done the ride before, the nervousness was no longer there. I knew that if I took my time, I'd have a great experience, and I did! Day 4 was the Evil Twins Day. What that meant was that we would ride up a massive hill, go up its evil step sister (it came out of nowhere) and then go up another massive hill just like the first one.

At the end of the hill? HALFWAY TO LA.

I do think that my training paid off, because the twins were mere hills to me in this sense as well. I wasn't out of breath, I wasn't irritated that people were passing me, and I was so excited to be dominating something that scared me so much in years past!

Travis, Matt, and I took pictures at the top and agreed to meet at various rest stops on the way home. Again, Rest Stop 4 won "favorite rest stop of the day" with my favorite song from The Greatest Showman! (also because I don't know any other songs from the movie and truthfully have still yet to see it...)

Matt and I loaded up on snacks and got ready to ride the last 7 miles back to camp. We were about 3 miles away, going about 20+ miles per hour when I hit a bump in the road and flew off my bike into oncoming traffic. I was stunned. To be honest, I don't know what was going on in my head at that time. All I remember is tilting over to the left and hitting the asphalt. Hard.

Matt, who instantaneously became my knight in shining armor, directed traffic on both sides while a nice man tried to help me up (Doug? I think his name was Doug). My whole left side was in pain. I tried to stand but couldn't put any weight on my left side because of how much it hurt. When I got up, we moved to the side of the road.

Matt picked up my stuff, which had scattered across the street, and as the ambulance arrived (one of the girls had called 911), I turned around and asked him to pause my Garmin. True story: It's a movement. I laughed because I was THAT person.

The EMTs checked to make sure that I had not broken my collarbone, took my vitals, and poked and prodded until they were convinced that nothing was wrong with me. They urged me to go to the hospital to check and make sure my elbow was not broken, but I waived my right to a hospital ride (do you know how much those things cost?!) and they bound my arm in a sling before asking me to sign release forms so they could leave.

Matt waited with me while the SAG vehicle was summoned, and the 8 or so people who had stopped to help me slowly departed (Thank you to each and every one of you who stopped for me!). Matt told me that a car had just passed him as he saw me fall and he was convinced that my life flashed before his eyes (his words were more like "a car had just passed me as you crashed" but if I were him, I'd flash my life before his eyes too. Even though he had, at that point, only known me for less than a week. Let's just say it was a very short flash and call it even).

It was scary to find out that had it been timed differently, I could have ended up in a very different situation. 3 seconds later, 5 seconds later: would I have hit my head? Could I have been hit by a car? Would I still be here right now? I kept running the scenario through my mind. Could I have prevented this incident? What could I have done differently?

Nothing. If I could replay this day all over again, the same course of events would have happened. Nothing could have been changed. No one can really anticipate a wheel hitting a bump, aligning so serendipitously to move the wheel in a certain way, cause imbalance, and force someone to fly off their handles. Literally.

And yet, here I am.

The SAG vehicle came and drove me back to camp. They dropped me off at Medical, where an array of doctors took a look at me and told me the same thing: go to the hospital, get checked out, make sure there are no broken bones.

The hard-headed part of me told them that I was ok, but they pulled the final card out when they told me that I wasn't allowed to ride until I could produce x-rays of my bones, whole and unharmed. hrmph.

Okay, you win. I'll go to the hospital. Everything was starting to hurt anyway. The adrenaline was starting to wear off.

The doctor promised me that I'd have someone with me at the hospital. I didn't want to go it alone. Two women came to take me, and we left for the Marian Regional Medical Center. We pulled up to emergency, they dropped me off, and as I was rolling away in the wheelchair a nurse had gotten for me, one of the girls handed me a yellow slip and told me to call someone at Command when I was ready to leave.

That's it? No one was going to stay with me? If I had known, I would have asked someone. Hospitals are a scary place. To be hurt and alone is crippling because of the sheer uncertainty of it all. Luckily, the nurses and the doctors took great care of me. I had my vitals taken again and was given my own room to wait in. I spoke with a doctor for an extended amount of time about what happened and they did three x-rays from 3 different angles of my elbow to make sure they didn't miss anything.

And then we waited.

It was probably a little over an hour before I heard back to find that nothing was wrong. Huge sigh of relief. They cleaned the rocks out from my wound and then dressed it before they discharged me, and I called Command to let them know I was ready to be picked up.

"Someone should be picking you up tonight, hopefully."


I waited an hour and a half before Jen from med transport found me and brought me back to camp, but by then it had already been lights out for a few hours and everyone was asleep. We walked over to the medical tent (now my most frequented location on the ride!) and the doctors gave me another once over before letting me know it was okay for me to go to bed. I was not allowed to ride day 5, but I could check in before day 6 to see if it was okay. They are thorough, and for that I am grateful.

Thankfully, Travis and Matt had set up my tent for me and grabbed my stuff. I knew I had the best guys on the team! Jen walked with me to my tent and wished me well. The real battle that night was managing my bag with one hand. I changed, took a baby wipe shower (yes, it's a real thing. It involves baby wipes and wiping yourself down so you don't sleep in your own cold sweat), and huddled around my bag with a mylar blanket and slept. I'd deal with my problems on Day 5.

Day 4, mostly done.

Daily Elevation: 4,746
Total Elevation: 15,298
Higher than Mt Whitney, almost as high as Mont Blanc!


THURSDAY. DAY (5). Santa Maria to Lompoc

This was one of my favorite days last year. I was so sad that I wouldn't be able to enjoy it like I did in 2017, but I was very enlightened in the sense that I was able to see the ride from another perspective.

Good ol' past Winnie, who set a recurring 4:30am alarm for the week... woke present Winnie up with her darn pre-crastination skills.

I got 2 hours of sleep on Thursday. Luckily, I didn't have very much stuff to put away, and as I was attempting to tie my shoe with one hand, the medic team from the night before showed up at my tent! I know that we are all thankful for different things, but I am always thankful for the people in my life, no matter the circumstances. Jen and David were only there to check in, and I cried a little on the inside.

David masterfully pulled my tent down for me and everyone helped me roll my luggage so it could be transported over to the next stop: Lompoc.

I felt broken. I went over to the Medical tent to check in, as instructed, with the doctors there. I was told once again that I needed to take the day off to give my body time to recoup, and as they changed my dressings they told me that if I felt like it, I could ride Day 6.

That's all I needed to hear.

Red Dress Day is always the shortest day that we ride, so I was happy not to have missed too much mileage: only 41 miles.

I waited in line to get onto the bus, and when we rolled into the new location for the day, we were still there 3 hours before it was set to open. Other cyclists had already arrived - they beat the bus into getting into camp!

A special guardian angel called me while I was sitting on a lounge chair waiting for Travis and Matt to come in. "There's a hotel a mile away with your name on it." And though I tried with my might to say no, I succumbed, under very special circumstances, to my first PRINCESSING part of the ride! (That's when you stay in a hotel instead of with the camp).

It was something I really, really needed. I needed to shower (it had been well over 24 hours and I still had not gotten the sweat from the last ride off me, even though personally I believed in the power of baby wipes) and I needed to clean the wound thoroughly and let it air out so it could heal.

Thank you, T. You truly are a godsend and I am so lucky to be able to call you my friend.

The boys and I spent the afternoon eating our hearts out at Solvang Brewing Company. It was delicious. The ice cream didn't hurt either.

I spent the rest of the evening in my hotel room, assessing the damages of the night before.

I still stand by my testament that I am lucky to be alive. I had holes on the right side of my jersey, holes on the left side of my shorts... I tore through my sleeves, and I CRUSHED the can of sunblock. My brand new Ironman Jersey 😭. I'm so sad.  (to be clear, though - I'm not as sad anymore as I've since ordered a new replacement jersey. Now I'm only sad about how much it cost.)

Day 5, done (in spirit).


FRIDAY. DAY (6). Lompoc to Ventura

Day 6!! I was so antsy about not being able to ride that I was determined to ride despite being in pain. My left side was still very sensitive, and bruises were starting to form, but I needed to do this. I didn't want to spend another day waiting at camp while everyone was having fun. It was like FOMO but being present and missing out. It was just weird. I didn't like it.

We got to ride on the 101 Freeway! Had a few rest stops and blew past lunch..

Before we got to Santa Barbara, home of McConnell's Ice Cream and the PARADISE PIT!

Fresh fruit, nice people, and of course - ICE CREAM!

We rolled out to Rest Stop 4, where Bo Peep was hanging with her sheep. Dance parties ensued.

Camp was only a few miles out, so I took it easy, but was still one of the first few back in. I had an early dinner with Adam and we walked over to the beach to skip rocks (successfully!) and watch the waves crash. It was nice.

We concluded the evening with the Candlelight Vigil.

Two years ago, I was introduced to ALC by way of this candlelight vigil. My hair caught on fire (a story for another day), and I fell in love with this community that mourned for brothers and sisters who could not be with them because of the cards life dealt them. I didn't understand it then, I didn't understand it last year, but I definitely understood it this year.

Matt and I had an open conversation about what the stigma of HIV entailed, and for the first time since I signed up for the ALC ride, I wanted to do more. Mark blew me away on Day 3 of the ride when he told me that he would sign up every year until there was a cure. No hesitancy, just a will to want to change the status quo. I am so lucky to be surrounded by such amazing characters in life, who motivate me to want to be more than I am.

On day 6, I signed up again for ALC.

Day 6, Done.

Daily Elevation: 3,173
Total elevation: 18,471 (not counting day 5 elevation, just what I did)
Equivalent to: Pico De Orizaba (Highest Peak in Mexico) and higher than Base Camp at Everest!


SATURDAY. DAY (7). Ventura to Los Angeles!

Day 7! I am always excited to return home. I just wanted to sleep in my own bed and shower in something other than a truck. We were told that the course would open at 6am vs the normal 6:30 time frame, so Travis, Matt, and I anticipated leaving as soon as the gates opened.

By 7:30, we were already in Malibu at the Missile Park.
Patrick texted me and jokingly asked if we were going to come in at 9:30am.

We were making great time!
By 11:30. we had made it to lunch, but Travis took a spill getting into Will Rogers State Beach, and he and Matt decided to leave earlier to get to the finish line faster.

I took my time, and headed out shortly after. I originally thought I would be at Grand Park earlier than anticipated, but I should have stuck to what I told everyone in the first place. DTLA traffic doesn't just affect public transportation and automobiles - it affects cyclists just as much! I made the mistake of not reapplying sunblock. It was getting pretty hot waiting for traffic lights to turn green.

But I made it!

This is what true happiness looks like. A girl and her Hot Cheetos.

Daddy and me <3

 I'm so happy to be back. I'm healing (I'd show you all the wound but I don't think you'd like me very much after.) Can't wait for next year. Love love love the Love Bubble and so glad I had such a great team to ride with this year. I wouldn't change it for the world.

Day 7, Done.

Daily elevation - 2,060
Total Elevation - 20,531
Equivalent to - Denali, the highest peak in North America!

I may not have done it all, but I did more than most. My heart rate jumped up for the week (my resting is 38) but every day, I was active. I'm proud of what I did, for the cause I did it for, and I can't wait to do it again.

Until next time.

P.S. - The love for face masks - I was not kidding.

I did one every day on the ride!


A Special THANK YOU to all of my Donors (in order of Donation), who made this ride possible for me:

Nick C, Anthony R, Isabelle L, Hymie A, Jessica and the Mad Engine Team, Hymie and Connie and C-Life, Sagar, Howard and the HYP team, Jim H, Jason A, Chris H, Lisa L, Kathryn H, Joseph H and HighPoint, Andrew F, Michael E, Sung L, Cuong Q, Chan T, Eunice Y, Donna B, Thalia D, Joyce J, Frank B, Naomi, Richie, Layna, and the Berkshire Family, Adam S, Allison C, Sarvish and Surreal, and Maureen D!