Stephen Shirreffs rode this year’s AIDS Lifecycle and gives his personal recount below.
It felt crazy standing in the AIDS/LifeCycle starting line with my bike at the Cow Palace, ready to ride out for the first time since 2019. There was the usual buzz of anticipation but also a kind of a hush of disbelief that here we are again. Everything felt just the same except of course for all the masking. There was palpable excitement at our having broken all records in fundraising, just shy of $18 million. But that could not explain the swarm of butterflies as we waited to clip in.
It was San Francisco foggy and cool; there was a prediction of a 40% chance of .04” of rain. That did not prepare us for getting soaked to the skin all the way to Rest Stop 2.
Between Devil’s Slide and Half Moon Bay it was raining cats and dogs. I think most of my fellow riders were none too pleased but I had to laugh. I always laugh when I ride in the rain. At Pigeon Point the usual bevy of cheerleaders greeted us, dry and unfazed by the threat of rain that never quite made it that far. By the time we reached camp in Santa Cruz, we had all dried out and it was actually pretty warm.
Day 2 was the usual interminable slog once we got past Salinas. This year’s hot tailwinds were epic; by report they reached 32 mph. The final water stop was an apocalypse of gale force winds whipping sand in our faces. The roadies were hanging onto gear lest it blow off and be forever lost. Alas, Otter Pop Stop was canceled this year with promises that it will return next year.
It got plenty hot on Day 3. A bunch of us Marin Marauders (my team and training group) did Quadbusters twice in memory of our friend Jim Ernst who was killed in a cycling accident four years ago. There is nothing quite as thrilling as riding DOWN Quadbuster knowing what you have signed up for, and I made sure to shout out Jim’s name several times in case he was listening.
Lots of folks did the $100 burger at Bradley School and the school raised record funds this year. Covid meant we had to sit outside. But the kids were great as usual and we had a blast of a time. We were able to ride through Fort Roberts again and take our pictures astride various ancient tanks with big guns. For the second time Rest Stop 4 was in a park in San Miguel and not at the mission; I have always enjoyed moments of quiet cool reflection in that mission church. By the time we got to Paso Robles it was “only” 96˚.
Day 3 Camp Stage was special. Lorri Jean, the longtime head of the LA LGBT Center, is retiring and there was a moving send-off. Lorri is a larger than life figure whose boundless energy and all-inclusive commitment is the major reason why the LA LGBT Center is one of the largest gay organizations in the world. She was clearly moved by the long, standing ovation and she deserved every bit of the accolades. We will certainly miss her peerless ability to combine wit and meaning from the stage. Irreplaceable.
Speaking of the stage Tracy Evans, the Ride Director, led off every night and she too has a remarkable ability to combine humor and a pointed message. The riders actually did better this year in terms of safe riding and that made her job easier. Joe Hollendoner, I am sure, will miss being able to play off Lorri but he was his usual ribald self on stage. Tyler TerMeer, the new head of the SF AIDS Foundation, is actually a funny guy and I am quite sure he will soon enough learn how to be funny on stage.
Day 4 is the best day in my book. The halfway point was the usual madhouse but the roadies did a superb job of moving everybody through. That long, long descent down to Highway One is the high point of the ride for me. I make a habit of shouting loudly out to the wind the names of the men I personally lost to the epidemic. Bittersweet, of course, but it felt good to be talking to them again in that magical place.
Somewhere in the early part of Day 4 I got to ride with James, another member of Marin Marauders, and we ended up riding together pretty much all the way to LA. He likes cookies so we stopped at Brown Butter Cookie Company. And of course we had to stop at Old West Cinnamon Rolls in Pismo Beach where the line was blocks long. Fortunately for us somebody had an extra roll they couldn’t manage and gave it to our fellow rider William. So William, James, and I shared a free (timewise) roll.
Red Dress Day 5 was a gay-crazy explosion of creativity. Our team had a theme, which made it easy to get into the spirit. Thanks go to Michael Brown who knew how to securely attach a wild wig to a bicycle helmet. Rest Stop 1 is the craziest place because everybody wants to preen and show off and the costumes have yet to be subjected to the wind, sun, and rigors of the road. I stayed a long while taking in the 360 of mad creations. Curiously at the end of the day we had lunch in the old camp spot and camped in the old lunch spot … and that worked out really well. Kinda wonder why they didn’t do that years ago.
That evening brought the first bad COVID news. Three members of our team and a number of other folks tested positive on or around Day 5 evening. Those with whom I have spoken reported that the ALC staff was very effective in helping them make arrangements. Mostly folks rented cars and drove back to SF. In at least one case, ALC forwarded my friend’s bike to the end and ACE shipped it back to SF; I think other folks took their bikes with them. There has been no release of figures of how many infections there were but I personally heard of only four cases albeit all people that I knew.
Those of you who have done the ride will no doubt recollect the epic descent through Gaviota Pass that is the highlight of Day 6. We managed to do it again with no injuries. James and I were cooking down the road and it sped by with nary an incident. The folks at Paradise Pit in Santa Barbara were over the moon that we were back—such a joyous mosh pit. I had, I swear, seven scoops of ice cream, but nobody was counting. Reports are that the dance party at Rest Stop 4 was crowded and lively. I rolled by with a wave and a smile, and got my shower done before the late arrivals.
The candlelight vigil on the beach at Ventura was exceptionally solemn and quiet. The riderless bicycle was not on the beach as in previous years but the crowd spontaneously formed a large circle and people placed their candles in the middle, quietly remembering. We know your names, beloved lost friends, and I am sure that many in that crowd were silently saying those names. Say their names. Say their names as long as you have breath.
I never look forward to Day 7. It is the end of the party. It is like a countdown, especially once we get back to the coast after Oxnard. For the second time we were not allowed to have an official stop in the 28 miles of Malibu, thanks to the entitled rich I suppose, so the lunch stop is perilously close to the end. We sat in the dunes together, reveling in each other’s company one more time. And then to the finish line where once you cross … poof … the Love Bubble disappears and it is back to the everyday grind of making your way through the ordinary world.
There was a bizarre tragedy at the end. An experienced rider had a solo accident and died on the spot from his injuries. I have heard a lot of speculation but I have no facts other than that he crashed with a block and half to go and did not make it. We all know this is a sport with dangers and it should remind us to take care at every turn.
The ride is over again, and we are all looking forward to next year. For those of you who were on the ride, congratulations, and I hope to see you again next year. For those of you who did not do the ride this year, hey, how about signing up right now? There is no experience in amateur cycling that tops AIDS/LifeCycle.