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California AIDS Ride 5 Participation Report – Part One

June 10th, 1998

Dear California AIDS Ride Sponsors:

The May 31 – June 6, 1998 California AIDS Ride is now history and its primary objective of raising funds for the fight against HIV/AIDS was extremely successful. You and the other collectively contributed close to 10 million dollars through your support for this year’s AIDS Ride program. My own ride effort was sponsored by 113 persons whose generosity resulted in more than $6,000 in contributions benefiting the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

TRAINING RIDES, EL NINO AND ANNOYANCES

Last year (1997) when I undertook the AIDS Ride commitment I had only been bicycling for a couple of months. As a veteran day hiker and backpacker I assumed much of my body was sufficiently in shape to make the transition to bicycling a rather easy one. That assumption turned out to be somewhat optimistic and it required more time and effort to get my almost 60 year old body in shape for the AIDS Ride than I had expected. Nevertheless I proved to myself it can be done and I have no hesitancy in recommending it to others. Along the way I encountered riders of all ages and with many different body types proving that neither factor serves as a deterrent to the determined bicycling enthusiast. To continue, though, my own training efforts included a few temporary and annoying setbacks. Excessive training in October caused both knees to “go out” leaving me inactive for a month. El Nino blessed us with lots of wet weekends, making them unsuitable for training rides. In mid March while returning via bike through Sausalito I was hit by an automobile and suffered a leg injury which left me inactive for 3 weeks. (The driver became one of my sponsors). Despite these setbacks I eventually attained a level of fitness which allowed me to complete two Century rides of 112 miles each during the month of May. As the actual AIDS Ride date approached I was somewhat apprehensive whether my fitness level would be sufficient to meet the challenge and would have preferred more time to train. However, my training program ended the weekend before the Ride, for I spent the final week resting, away from my bicycle – and off my regular diet (that was the fun part).

DAY ZERO REGISTRATION

Saturday, May 30, 1998, was Day Zero for all AIDS Ride participants. Many of us spent from 4 to 5 hours at San Francisco’s Ft. Mason Center checking in our bicycles and going through the mandatory registration and orientation procedures. That’s where I got my first taste of a fact of life which would be part of my existence for the next seven days – namely, long, long, lines! By day’s end I was wearing an orange wrist band attesting I’d viewed the mandatory safety video, a red wrist band bearing my official rider number (vegetarians also received a green wrist band), and a chain around my neck holding a tag bearing my tent number. I also received a luggage tag, a helmet sticker and a bicycle sticker bearing my rider number. After attaching the sticker to my warehoused bicycle, my Day Zero experience was over.

CEREMONIES, HEROES AND ON THE ROAD

Sunday morning, May 31st, at 5:00 a.m. my good friend Nina Smith rang my doorbell signaling she was ready (even if I wasn’t) to transport me and my backpack of personal belongings down to Ft. Mason. After expertly navigating our way through the traffic jam of cars, taxis and buses merging at that location, Nina dropped me off around 5:20 a.m. I delivered the backpack to my assigned baggage truck, stood in line for breakfast and searched the crowd vainly for faces of others I had met on training rides. That morning I observed for the first time the full complement of 2600 riders and 650 crew I would be traveling within the seven-day journey to Los Angeles. Around me many had adorned their helmets with figures (Star Wars characters, Barbie Dolls, reptiles, Godzilla, Martini glasses, Animals, Stuffed Creatures, etc.) or were wearing distinctive costumes – anything to make one stand out in a crowd of 3300. Following breakfast there was an emotional ceremony in the Festival Pavilion followed by a brief sendoff speech from Mayor Willie Brown. And, they kept calling us heroes. Afterwards we were called by row number to retrieve our bicycles and begin the first day’s ride from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. My section of the group left Ft. Mason around 7:45 a.m. along a route filled with applauding and cheering spectators, giving us our first taste of the wonderful, uplifting, exhilarating, emotion-filled events which would so completely dominate our experiences throughout the week-long ride.

– Continued in Part Two –

California AIDS Ride 5 Participation Report – Part Two

June 10th, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO TO LOS ANGELES – 576 MILES

The route to Los Angeles was laid out in a zigzag fashion designed to keep us on the least traveled roads whenever possible. There were times when we shared a route with heavy traffic lanes and a few instances where a portion of the 101 Freeway had an official bike lane along the shoulders. Wind sheer from large passing trucks was probably the most unsettling hazard, though the proximity of speeding vehicles in lanes adjacent to bicycle routes is never a comfortable feeling. However, we received excellent traffic control support from our support crew. Leaving San Francisco our first destination was the coastal city of Santa Cruz. Next day, Monday, we continued southeast into the Salinas Valley town of King City. Paso Robles at the valley’s southern end was our Tuesday evening campsite and on Wednesday we rode west and then down the coast to a campsite which filled the runways of the Oceano Airport. Afterwards, it was Lompoc on Thursday, Ventura on Friday and then into the Century City area on the Los Angeles-Beverly Hills border for the closing ceremonies late Saturday afternoon. The entire route totaled 576 miles in length. The longest segment was 102 miles on the second day with the shortest being 57 miles on Saturday. Along the way we climbed up and over Highway 92 and in the following days a number of other ridges, peaks and hills bearing such names as Quadbuster, Evil Twin #1, Evil Twin #2, and Agony Grade. Near the top of every hill and steep grade would be a crowd of crew and speedier bicyclists clapping and cheering us on towards the summit. We occasionally observed exhausted riders walking their bikes up the longer and steepest grades. I was delighted to realize that my own training had left me better prepared than expected, for I was able to ride my bike the entire 576 mile route.

LOTS OF SPECIAL MOMENTS

My ride days were filled with memorable sights and events. Obviously, bicycling is an excellent way to really appreciate the countryside and to notice the extreme contrasts between busy city streets and the quiet of pastoral farming communities. The Salinas Valley with its’ normally 100+ degree heat was 20 degrees cooler this year making for mostly pleasant cycling days. We did encounter 20 miles or so of rather brisk head winds towards the end of the second day. As for moisture, other than a few hours of rain on Wednesday between Paso Robles and Morro Bay, the days were all cool and dry. The people we encountered were uniformly kind and welcoming. Lots of signs lined the route which either welcomed us or memorialized family or friends lost because of HIV/AIDS. Numerous passing vehicles honked salutes, sitting and standing spectators clapped, school children asked for autographs and, for me there was an especially memorable route segment along a farm road in which every telephone pole was adorned with a red ribbon and at the end was a country school house whose class stood in front lining the road and cheering us on. The message I received from all along our route was that there is definite value in using events like the AIDS Ride to continually publicize that the terrible HIV/AIDS scourge remains with us, no one has been cured, people are still becoming infected while others are dying and it’s up to all of us to continue our efforts at education and support until the day when the disease has finally been conquered. I have to tell you that my eyes were wet from tears on more than one occasion before the week had ended.

LIFE IN A TENT CITY

Home, at the end of the day, was our mobile community which the wonderful crew moved and laid out each day between 8:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Following my arrival “home” to the cheers, whistles and applause of other cyclists and crew members, I checked myself and bicycle into the secured parking area. Then off to the tent truck line followed by a search of the grounds for a tent space marker labeled “C-82”. Since there were markers for over 1600 tent sites, finding my own wasn’t always the most straight forward task. Assembling the 8’ x 8’ free-standing tent was a simple affair and nearby tent neighbors could always be counted on for assistance if wind or other problems made tent assembly difficult. My assigned tent partner, Brendan, was a nice young man from Los Angeles. I always arrived in camp first so I performed tent setup chores. Brendan oftendeparted later than I each morning so he assumed responsibility for packing the tent up and returning it to the tent truck. Once the tent had been assembled, I would look for the baggage area and the truck bearing the label “C”. After retrieving my backpack and transporting it to the tent, it was off to the shower truck area. These were large mobile units containing 16shower stalls, in two separate men and women sections. Afterwards it’s back to the camp entrance to lend my own applause and whistle sounds to the others there welcoming incoming riders. At 7:30 p.m. an area of the camp set aside for events hosted the evening’s speakers who summarized daily activities along with announcements concerning the next day’s route, followed by the evening’s entertainment program. One evening comedienne Paula Poundstone joined us (for her third year) and performed a two-hour comedy routine. Lights out and quiet time lasted from 9:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m. the next morning. Nutritious meals (though in a category different from gourmet) consisting of breakfast from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. and dinner from 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. were served in camp daily. Lunch consisted of sandwiches, salad, chips, soft drinks, cookie and fresh fruit served from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. on the route at Pit Stop 3. In addition to Food Services trucks, a tent truck, the baggage trucks staffed by volunteer UPS employees, and the combination shower/laundry/lavatory trucks, our mobile community had a Bicycle Repair Services unit, a Medical Tent staffed by UCLA Medical Center volunteers, Sports Medicine Tent,Chiropractic Tent sponsored by Los Angeles College of Chiropractic, Massage Tent, General Store Tent, Camp Services Tent and a Media Relations Tent. 

A TYPICAL DAY ON THE RIDE

In the mornings I was usually awake and up before 5:00 a.m. That allowed me time for the lavatory line, the port-a-potty line, the food services line, the fresh milk line, the coffee line, breakfast, the coffee line (again), and a few minutes to scan our morning camp newsletter The Daily Ride. (Now, three points about those lines. First, they were always fast moving; second, they provided an opportunity to meet others and exchange greetings, etc.; and third, and of most importance, they saved money! By standing in line, less money was being spent on extra services, and more of the funds raised went to the foundations. We jokingly groused about the lines, but none would have opted to have it otherwise). After breakfast it was back to the tent to roll up my sleeping bag and ground pad, pack my backpack, carry it to the baggage truck and finally off to the bicycle parking area. Departure from camp (provided I was successful in locating my parked bicycle) usually occurred before 7:30 a.m. amidst a long line of other cyclists. It usually took from 5 to 10 miles before the bunched-up groups of riders began to string out along the route. For the remainder of each day whenever I looked ahead or to the rear there were always bicycles for as far as I could see. Throughout the ride the sight of cyclists stopped along the route was a common occurrence. They were there for tire repairs, bike repairs, broken bikes or bodies, pay phones and port-a-potties. The latter two always had lines in front of them. Official Pit Stops were located from 15 to 25 miles apart and these rest areas had room for bike parking, numerous port-a-potties, a beverage tent, snack tent (Cliff Bars, bananas, oranges, nuts, etc.), medical services tent and bicycle repair crew. Crew member teams at the Pit Stops competed for our attention through contests, wearing unusual costumes and passing out beads, and cards, etc. They worked very hard at encouraging us in every way possible. Riders also made a point of encouraging each other, helping each other and in general proving that it is possible for a community of 3300 strangers to come together for seven days and exist as a tightly knit group of caring individuals determined that all finish – and together!

– Continued in Part Three –

California AIDS Ride 5 Participation Report – Part Three

June 10th, 1998

SATURDAY’S VICTORY RIDE CELEBRATION

Saturday at 1:45 p.m. I pulled into the Pit Stop 5 final bicycle parking area – the end of our journey at the FOX lot. Picked up my official Closing Ceremony Victory Ride jersey (I’m a Scorpio born in the Chinese Year of the Tiger so my jersey had to be a red one) and headed over to the private party holding area set aside for us until the start of the ceremonies. Late in the afternoon around 5:00 p.m. we began our Victory Ride of bikes down the Avenue of the Stars to the stage of dignitaries assembled for the final event. The ceremony was a very moving experience, both joyful and sad, which included a tribute to those we’ve lost to HIV/AIDS. Most of the riders and crowd members were tearful at one point or another. Afterwards I took my bicycle over to the “Meet and Greet” area and found my good buddy Ed Emond waiting for me. He had driven down from San Francisco for the closing ceremonies and to give me, my bicycle and gear a ride back home in a vehicle with 4 wheels and with seats which were actually larger than what was sitting on them. That ride home was a wonderful experience!

 SPOKEBUSTERS, TALENT SHOW AND BUTT BALM

My seven days with the AIDS Ride were filled with events and sightings too numerous to recount in detail here. There were the 20 Spokebusters – men and women who’ve pledged to raise $12,000 and ride in all five of this year’s American AIDS Rides. The Positive Pedelers were all riders who’ve been infected by the HIV virus. There were a few deaf riders and David, an amazing young man who did the entire ride propelling his vehicle with only his arms. Riders on tandem bikes, and, of course, riders of every age, size and shape – all there because of their determination to be part of the HIV/AIDS fight. Camp Services published The Daily Ride newsletter which informed us of route changes, the lunch menu, Pit Stop locations, Rider Profiles, and other significant events. Each day’s ride was covered by representatives of the media, both local and national. In camp, many of the tents were decorated – some took on an appearance similar to National Park car camping. Finding one’s way back to the tent during the night was much easier for those whose tents had been lighted or otherwise made to stand out. The big Thursday evening Annual Rider and Crew Talent Show was a big hit. Snoring was a recurrent theme of discussion among the younger set for, since most tents were less than 12 inches apart, sound travelled between tents with amazing clarity. Butt Balm was another frequent discussion topic. It’s a salve-like substance distributed by the Medical Crew which was intended to relieve the pain resulting from chafing, rash and other skin conditions occuring in the area closest to one’s bicycle seat. I tried it once, but returned to using Petroleum Jelly – not Vaseline, mind you, but the stuff sold by Walgreen Pharmacy – a product with genuine axel grease properties.

 CREW MEMBERS AND SPONSORS ARE THE GREATEST

The crew consisted of more than 650 volunteers all of whom really worked their tails off that week while always managing to make it appear that we (the riders) were the real heroes. I think not – for all I had to do was ride, eat and sleep. Crew members put in 8, 10 and 12 hour days performing such tasks as food servers, baggage handlers, Pit Stop services, bicycle traffic control, route signing (put the signs out each morning and take them down each evening), lunch distribution, tent stake layout and other tasks designed to make life for 3300 persons a smooth running operation. The crew really seemed to love us and their enthusiasm and support was the most positive and infectious experience I’ve ever encountered. In addition to the generous caring nature of the crew, the absolute insistence upon road safety by the organizers,the generous hospitality of host communities, the concerned and active involvement of officials from the benefiting foundations, the support of Tanqueray (no, we didn’t have alcoholic beverages that week), the marvelous UPS folks, Start to Finish Bicycle technicians, Clif Bar and the other corporate sponsors, the volunteer masseuse, medical, and chiropractic staff and the additional volunteers who handled the opening and closing day ceremonies all contributed immeasurably to the success of the entire ride. In retrospect, the more I think about the fantastic manner in which the event moved along to smoothly, my sense of amazement and admiration grows. If mistakes were ever made in years past, the organizers surely learned well from each one, for I saw none on the ride we just finished. It was an effort truly well done and all have good reason to take great pride in the successful result of their undertaking.

TANQUERAY – COMPANY WITH A CONSCIENCE

When the California AIDS Ride concept was first created 5 years ago, proposals for corporate sponsorship were sent to over 200 organizations. There was a single response and that was from Tanqueray. Since that first ride in 1994 (and including the other American AIDS rides in Washington DC, Twin Cities-Chicago, Boston-New York and now Texas), Tanqueray’s sponsorship has been unwavering and the company has invested more than 6 million dollars in support of the program. I’m enclosing one of the official “Tanqueray’s American AIDS Ride” pins as a token of my personal appreciation for your support and sponsorship of my AIDS ride effort. The purpose of the ride was to raise funds to fight HIV/AIDS and this you did – magnificently! The real heroes of this effort are you who were so generous with your contributions, large or small, benefiting the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. You have my most sincere thanks and I hope that whenever you wear the pin or see it on a shelf, it will remind you of your role as one who was responsible for a portion of the almost 10 million dollars raised to fight HIV/AIDS. Thanks again.

Very sincerely,

Bond Shands
Rider #2933