California AIDS Ride Journal – Day Six, Friday: 89.8 miles to Ventura

Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six | Day Seven

We cruise out through fog-bound Solvang, bleary at best.

Riders talk of having good days and bad days.

For me–and a few other riders I meet–this is a bad one, full of the crushing, physical part of the ride.

Not long out of camp, I signal and come to a quick stop in a left turn lane to avoid an oncoming car. A rider just behind me slams on her brakes and pitches headfirst over her curved handlebars to the pavement.

She curses and gets up slowly, grabbing my gloved hand for support. She is trembling, fighting tears. “Please hold my hand for a minute,” she begs, and gingerly wiggles her wrists, elbows, legs. “I don’t think I hit my head, but Oh, God, I’ve never wrecked before.”

I walk her over to where an AIDS Ride motorcycle flagman is directing bikers through the intersection, and straighten her handlebars for her. She calms down some, assures me she’s okay. We move on.

Four miles down the road, a line of us hug the 18-inch-wide shoulder, rolling carefully as commuters rush past at 50.

From nowhere, a line of racing bikes zooms up behind us in a draft line–with a line of speeding cars behind them– and calls out“ON YOUR LEFT.”

Five or six of us hold out flat left hands, signaling them to wait, but they blow on through, pinched perilously between our line and the cars, and for a second of screaming and honking, it looks like we will all crash.

Then it is over, and I move on with a chestful of rage that I vent at the lead rider–a thin, blond woman with a hot-pink road racer–when I spot her at the next pit stop. I shout a few choice words at her, most printably, “That was a STUPID thing to do,” and get nothing more than a mute, blank look. I whirl away before I say anything really ugly and she rides on.

At a pitstop, I spot Daniel, looking peaked. He confesses he just got SAGged in from camp–rider slang for hitching a ride in the Support and Gear vans. “I got sick. For the first time ever, I got SAGged in,” he says. “I was just feeling so depressed, I couldn’t ride. I think I’ll be better now.”

He is off again, pace of a gazelle, the wind in his teeth.

We dive down from the mountains now to the Gaviota coastline, and roll south at a steady clip under leaden skies. I pedal glumly along.

My thighs ache as if pierced by rusty nails. My butt stings with unrelieved chafing. My rear tire goes flat for the first time in nearly 500 miles. I have just about had it with this bicycling nonsense.

Then we cross into Ventura County, the sun melts the haze and gilds the cliffs of the Rincon, and everything changes. I am on my way home now, close to finished with this huge, emotional THING I have sunk myself into for nearly a week.

I have raised a $3,800 chunk of the $7.9 million reaped by the 2,275 AIDS Riders. I have met dozens of people, heard rich and moving stories and seen California slide past my eyes in the most intimate way imaginable.

The moon showed near-full when we left San Francisco last Sunday. Now it is almost half-phase, low in the clear blue sky.

And I cruise smiling along the Ventura State Beach bike path at top speed, watching surfers wash skilfully into shore like neoprene-sheathed dolphins.

It is on this leg that I think most of Gary Gorman, whose photo I carry in my map case.

He was a veteran Times reporter who transferred to Ventura back in 1990 and later became my editor.

Gary cut stories with near-surgical style. He pared away useless phrases and distilled paragraphs to their essence with quick keystrokes, blisteringly quick humor and an unerring grace as I watched at his side.

AIDS killed his lover, Otto, a few years back. While Gary spoke only casually in the newsroom of visits to the doctor or not feeling well, I could not help but think as I worked with him that he was next.

He left the Times two years ago August. Word came from his parents in Ohio last year that he was in a great deal of pain, and that the disease had struck him blind.
He died in February, before I got to know him as well as I had hoped.

He was 44.

Day Seven, Saturday. 70.3 miles to Closing Ceremonies in West Hollywood.