California AIDS Ride Journal –
Day Seven, Saturday: 70.3 miles to West Hollywood

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

I wake, shower, pack, break my tent and pound down breakfast, trying to put my finger on what California AIDS Ride really is.

It might seem a well-orchestrated publicity stunt, an attention-getter staged for a good cause. It worked; it raised $7.9 million for AIDS Care in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

That is just surface gloss.

The bones and meat and spirit of the event lie in the people.

Riders grind their knees to painful pulp, tape them up in the evening, and grind them down again in the belief this quixotic trip will show the world that AIDS has hurt men, women and children, the families of the sick, and AIDS victims themselves.

They hope that if they yell loud enough about the good dying young, the world will work harder for a cure and take better care of the sick.

They treat each other with kindness. They break stride to pull over and fix flats for each other. They lend tools and tubes to complete strangers, raise and break down tents for one another, cheer each other up hills and whoop in unison while speeding downhill.

As we pull out of Ventura this morning, buzzing past Oxnard’s strawberry fields, we have become a small community, pointing out potholes and car doors, chatting over Power Bars and Gatorade, cross-pollenating our ideas and ideals into some hybrid compassion that sees no labels, only other souls who deserve to live happily and well.

Straights treat gays and lesbians with courtesy, and courtesy is returned with warmth and even budding friendship.

As we’re cruising through a dank drizzle south of Point Mugu, I see a woman, then a man, pumping along and looking down with visible sadness at the snapshots mounted on their handlebars.

The soul of this thing punches through the fatigue-haze: These hundreds of riders–some of them HIV-positive, some living with full-blown AIDS–we are pushing our bodies and spirits if only for this one week, to live more fully for the ones who cannot.

We are 2,275 otherwise ordinary people, from a 17-year-old girl to a 78-year-old man. We are saddened and moved and ticked off and scared by what this disease has done to our friends and lovers, colleagues and kin.

And I find myself angered by the fear that it has injected into love, and by the ignorance and bigotry I still see surrounding it every day.

On the way down from Gaviota yesterday, I was rumbling along and some passing trucker yelled out the window, “Faggot!” And suddenly I was 14 again, pedaling my bike to school and swerving in fear he would veer over to hit me.

I remember hearing that the owners of a hot springs at one pit stop would not let riders take a dip until a Sunday school class had left the area.

After Closing Ceremonies, we will go back to our lives, many with hope that we can drag the rest of the world into the light by this small example.

The clouds lift, and we roll in to West Hollywood amid sunshine and applause. Riders slap high-fives, hug each other, scream, guzzle sodas – it is all over but the lasts few blocks.

As I write, Daniel plunks down next to me. He has 10 days to wash all his bike clothing and get ready for the next AIDS Ride, from Philadelphia to Washington D.C., but he smiles, tanned, sweating and invigorated by his third California AIDS Ride, the most unifying one yet, he says.

“I hope that this will remain like an AIDS Ride Community,” he says, clutching a ride T-shirt he will don for closing ceremonies. “We should all wear a tattoo or something. We might not see each other unless we run into each other in the supermarket. But it would be wonderful if the real world were like these people, healthy or sick, rich or poor. The strong help the weak and vice versa.”

The clouds lift, and we roll into West Hollywood amid sunshine and applause. Riders slap high-fives, hug each other, guzzle sodas–it is all over but the last few blocks.

We don multicolored T-shirts and line up in rows of six, then parade at the slowest speed of the entire ride through the streets of West Hollywood. Family and friends — a crowd estimated at 16,000 — clog the sidewalks.

Riders whoop and holler, hoisting bikes overhead and flinging water from grimy bottles into bright arcs in the sun. We fall quiet for speeches by dignitaries including West Hollywood mayor and AIDS rider Paul Koretz and Los Angeeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who rode the final day. Then ride Dan Pallotta puts his finger on it.

“I don’t think that hope exists. I think hope is a hoax, it’s an illusion, some excuse that somebody made up to avoid taking action.” Pallotta said he found hope nowhere on California AIDS Ride 3.

“But I’ll tell you what I did find. I found $8 million in cold, hard cash for care of people with AIDS. And that’s real, and I can touch that. And I found 2,275 people who are not willing to sit around on their couches and say what they can’t do. And you’re here, and I can see you.”