California AIDS Ride Journal –
Day Three, Tuesday: 76.5 miles to Paso Robles
By MACK REED, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Today, the hammer comes down.
Last year’s AIDS Ride enemy was a drenching rain, two days’ worth that left roads slick, tents soaked, riders miserable.
This year, we fight heat. As we cycle out of our mobile tent city, past the southern Salinas Valley’s rounded foothills, the morning comes on teasingly cool.
Daniel, veteran of all five Tanqueray-sponsored AIDS Rides held across the country to date, blows past me astride his featherlight carbon-fiber Softride.
I shout his name and pump furiously for three minutes solid on my clunky, off-the-rack mountain bike to catch up because I have not seen him for a few days. The Swiss bank he works for flew him to New York at the end of Day One to get his new assignment.
Daniel, a blond, HIV-positive alpine skier and relatively new cyclist is to become a traveling ambassador for the cause of AIDS care and prevention.
Today he is back, remembering last year’s horribly soggy ride and grinning his way through this year’s.
“Last year, we put the tents up in the rain, there was no shelter, and everybody was just miserable,” he says, cruising past fields of broccoli. “But it was a real bonding experience for us, it brought everyone together.
“A friend of mine was doing the ride, and he said, `This is hard, but I can do it because this pain is nothing, compared with the pain my lover suffered when he died.'”
At our next pitstop at Fort Hunter Liggett, 33 miles later, Daniel clowns around on an old Army tank, where some wag stuck a cardboard sign reading, `Tank Array.”
As he jokes with old friends and makes new ones, his spectacled eyes fairly glow. This is his element.
By noon, the road shimmers with heat.
We toss bottle after bottle of water down quick-parched throats, our butts numb, legs cramped and tires turned gummy on griddle-hot asphalt. People stop needing the bathrooms.
Pitstop 4 is a fever dream. Volunteers in grass skirts and Hawaiian shirts spray us with water, dole out fresh fruit and ice and sing for us in the courtyard of Mission San Antonio.
I wander into the church, where it is 20 degrees cooler, kneel for a minute and ask God to watch over this crazy endeavor.
By two p.m., heat-dazed riders are weaving off the shoulder and into the slow lane of Highway 101. Crew vans pick them up by the dozens, ordering them to hand over bikes and be driven into camp or face expulsion.
As the rest of us slog in under volunteers’ arcs of squirtgun water, word goes around: The temperature hit 110 today.
Quattrocchi was among the bused-in riders. The day before, she rode all 90 miles, and then some, because of a wrong turn. Today, she recalls, “They were just sweeping everybody up, and I said, `Oh well,’ and I came in.
“It was so hot,” she says, puffing a cigarette in the cooling night. “I was thinking of old boyfriends, and I’d think of things with the kids,” she said. She tapped the photo badge of her smiling son Ted. `And I’d talk to this one once in a while.”