California AIDS Ride Journal – Day Four, Wednesday: 80.9 miles to Santa Maria

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Ride organizer Dan Pallotta announced at last night’s camp gathering that six riders went to the hospital with heat exhaustion, and one is still there.

Ride staff lecture, wheedle and order us: drink water, even before thirst hits. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

But we head for the coast, and cooler air. A long grind up the backside of the coastal mountains rewards us with seven miles of curving, speeding downhill through a damp green tunnel of overhanging oaks.

Two riders wipe out in sand and potholes that hide in the shadows, but word comes back that they survived with only nasty cases of“road rash” and will continue the ride.

Bracingly cool fog hugs the hilltops. I hop off to take a photo of riders crawling up an incline in the fog past Whale Rock Reservoir. They look like ancient warriors in an Akira Kurosawa film, and again I spot Daniel, cruising past slower riders as if they were standing still.

Moments later, I spot him hunkered over a flat tire beside the PCH. “Wasn’t that great? That was so nice compared with yesterday,” he says, grappling with tire irons in the lifting fog.

And he is the picture of health, just another athletic guy out on an awe-inspiring bike ride, no hint in face or voice that he has been living for 12 to 14 years with the virus that causes AIDS.

There are many more like Daniel riding, some even diagnosed with AIDS itself, others just touched by the pall it has thrown over human relations, its effect on brothers, sisters, parents, lovers, friends.

All of us have our stories of loss. As I sat and wrote Tuesday night, I asked Oakland rider David McDevitt to spell his name for a brief mention of the reasons he is here.

He wound up pouring his guts out to me for 45 minutes about how he visited his estranged sister’s deathbed with her HIV-positive son, Dillon, who is 6. She was unconscious, wasted to 80 pounds. Dillon’s two cousins gave Julie McDevitt’s forehead a goodbye kiss, but he would not go near her.

They all went for coffee later, and as McDevitt carried 35-pound Dillon across the street, the boy asked, “Who’s gonna take care of me, are you?”

“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” McDevitt told me.

And as he described the grueling training rides he endured, the the $12,000 he raised for AIDS care before the ride, and the sense of tight community he has savored every day of the ride, McDevitt began to weep.

NEXT: Day Five, Thursday, 46 miles to Cachuma Lake