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DC AIDS Ride 6: Wet, cool and glorious

My original intention was to post updates from the road, as I went. Well, despite my current employment as a consultant in wireless and mobile applications, or perhaps as a result of it, that really didn't work. Mostly, Blogger failed me, but I can only blame procrastination on it--a couple of well-placed perl scripts could have done the trick. Once again, the truism surrounding every presentation, production deployment, or anything else relying on technology holds true: it won't work when people are looking.

In any event, that didn't stop me from actually collecting thoughts on the experience. I hope they are, at the least, mildly entertaining.

Monday, June 18, 2001

4:10 PM: I love it when technology works as advertised. This is the first of what I imagine will be miriad postings from the road, in what I would call The RealWorld time (i.e. chronology edited for plot enhancement and cameramen's convenience). It took some time to get it working, almost too much now that I think of it, but aye aye, thanks to the people at Blogger.com I now have the ability to perform brain dumps from anywhere.
How dangerous.[And, in retrospect, how premature of a pat in the back!]

12:11 AM: I packed most of my stuff tonight. Two days before the ride. Anxiety, perhaps? Being overzealous? Not having enough to do now that the bike is already in North Carolina?

We will have to reserve judgment on that.



Tuesday, June 19, 2001

2:23 PM: Tomorrow I take off for Raleigh. It's here. I'm starting to get those weird chills I used to get before a big violin solo when I was a kid--or the stomach queasiness that comes on before the First Day of Anything.


Wednesday, June 20, 2001

5 pm: All my Day 0 deals are done. I was expecting to spend ridiculous amounts of time in line, but things progressed smoothly. Some of the pledges I had which were over the minimum I needed to raise I shared with a pair of riders that were a few hundred dollars short. Thanks to Dad and a couple of other generous donors, two additional people can have their lives changed for the better, if not in the way originally intended.

I met two women during the viewing of the safety video, both first-timers--Trish and Valerie (I think that's her name, if not, accept my apologies)-- who, upon chatting, realized that they had read this site before and found it reassuring. All the more reason to keep doing this journaling business. By the end of the video, they seemed both a little more nervous than at the beginning, but I did my best to encourage them and give them some insight.

Apropos the safety video, I noticed my eyes tearing up during the opening lines. Something tells me these will be very lacrimogenous days.

3AM Next morning:Had dinner last night with a bunch of strangers--until then, that is. There was Marvin, who seemed the silent ringleader, and there was Gil, the vocal one. Then Mack and Dan and Chris and ... I thought my name memory was improving. Pleasant company, and faces which I'm sure I'll be seeing throughout the ride.

L-R: Dan, ?,Marvin, Mack, Gil

While waiting for a table at the Ruby Tuesday's bar with the surly barkeep, I met a rider named Felipe, (coincidences will be the name of the game, it seems), one of the more visibly passionate people I've encountered in some time. I will have to write about him at some length when I'm awake.

L-R: George, Felipe

Awake thoughts post-ride: Story on Felipe. From what I gather, he has done work on video and still photography for marketing and pleasure, and from the way he spoke about photography, it seemed that it represented a true passion. There was a glimmer in his eyes as he spoke of capturing that perfect image with his camera that hinted at a very intense love of life and all the beautiful things within it. His friend George, sitting next to him, has done the ride a few times in the past, and seemed to ve a very steady and firm source of encouragement and support during the training, and during the ride itself. They both seem like the kind of people that change the world on a daily basis--they just exude that kind of vibe. As I saw them on the road, and at closing ceremonies, I was once again aware of how much an experience such as this can bring out the more amazing qualities of humankind.



Thursday, June 21, 2001

3 AM:It's 3 AM. I am dressed for riding 110 miles.

I can't tell if it's late or early.

1 PM: Lunch is over and it's not even noon yet. I really think I'll finish today witout having to rely on a bus.

I already used Regresa and Free to be you and me on the road. I'll have to find some new songs to sing to myself (and to whatever unfortunate bikers happen to be around me) as I make my way up the hills.

9 PM:Day one finished with me, on my bike, getting to camp. Somehow I managed to ride in with some of the same people I rode out with, including the team from Arlington County Police Department, a couple of BikeTwins (same bike as me), and Daryl (sp?), whom I mistakenly called Dwight through most of the ride. Then again, that was always on the road, so I think he just assumed I was talking to someone else. I conquered one of the ghosts of two years ago by finishing all 110 miles. On the way, I also experienced the party that the town of Warrenton, NC throws for the riders every year. Amazing that I completely missed it on my first turn at it. The sight of a whole town coming to a standstill to celebrate 2000 AIDS Riders, in a part of the country often described by Others as backwards or narrowminded, was one that again brought tears to my eyes. This is the kind of human beauty and kindness of heart that I shouldn't have missed the first time around. Shame the route will not be going through Warrenton next year.

I still don't know my tentmate's name, and I don't think he knows mine. Guess I should ask him when he's awake.



Friday, June 22, 2001

8:30 PM:The first 18 miles should not have been that difficult. Then again, they seemed to be tough for everyone today. No hills, no nasty traffic, just early morning sores. Saddle seemed to be out of kilter, had to stop a few times to bust out the trusty allen wrench and tighten the screw. Post-ride comment: This and a derailleur that hesitated a little between shifts (just turn the barrel!) constituted the totality of my technical difficulties during the ride. Compared with my friend Matt's 7 broken spokes and trashed Campagnolo rear derailleur, with the hundreds of flats I saw on the road, I count myself amongst the lucky.

Matt and me

I ran into just about everyone I know who's doing the ride today. Kind of cool really, that despite not starting "with" anyone, I've met a great number of people who've become Ride Friends through the numerous training rides and the various stops along the side of the road. I also added a couple of extra miles and two hills to my ride when I took off trying to catch up with a few riders who missed a turn in eastern Richmond.

9:30 PMRight now the big deal is the thunderstorm that's hitting camp (in Richmond, VA, on the parking lot of the Richmond raceway) as I write this, which has us all in somewhat wet knots. By now (9:46) it seems to have calmed down--I think the threat of having to evacuate camp has dissipated. It's still been a fun rush, listening to the distant and nearby giggling of tired adults as if they were at a slumber party with 2600 of their best friends. Holly and her tentmate, right next (door? Canvas-and-zipper?) have been giggles nonstop throughout the deluge which has been causing puddles in the middle of their tent

Saturday, June 23, 2001

What I would have written at 8AM had I not been a wet, cold, tired mess: So I shouldn't have written down the prediction about camp evacuation last night. About 30 minutes after the last posting, the rain started again. This time, the pools that Holly and tentmate had experienced, and that the people in tents behind ours were seeing, also began accumulating in our own. After using the chamois towel that had so poorly dried my body the night before (I failed to read directions!) to dry the floor of the tent during the previous wave of falling water, this time I decided to cut my losses. I packed the stuff I thought shouldn't get wet in the waterproof compression pack I brought, and left the less important stuff in my other duffel bag. I gathered my flannel sleeping sack, my pillow and sandals, and headed out towards the dining tent to seek dry ground.

Turned out plenty of people had the same idea. Some sought refuge on the dry ground, but some of those found that the gentle slope was not keeping them too dry anyhow. I started out trying to sleep on the stage from which the ride staff delivered the nightly news, but a drip right above me made that way too close to water torture. Anyhow, the sound of so many people trying to figure out what to do didn't make for a sleep-friendly environment.

I figured I'd help people move tables around to create makeshift beds, since I couldn't sleep anyhow. I recruited a couple of people and we rearranged some tables to create sleeping pods to accomodate more than one person per table. I saw a woman walking around in a confuzed daze, looking very cold, tired and miserable. I showed her to a table, and when I noticed she only had what looked like a t-shirt on which to lay her head, I gave her my pillow so that at least one of us would get some rest. I also saw Aesha (sp?), whom I had met the day before at a pit stop, walking around in what was almost a trance. I called out to her, started to tell her there was a place to sleep, but she burst into tears: she had had a bad encounter with a car during , had suffered some heavy bruising on her side, and all her stuff was wet. I held her for a few seconds, then led her towards the table and helped her get on it so that she could get some rest. I also offered her my sleeping roll, but she refused it despite my insistence. A few minutes later, as I walked past her, she seemed to be in mildly better spirits. [I feel somewhat dirty writing this down--almost seems like one sullies a good deed when one talks about doing it]At that point, thought, I decided that I had exhausted my ability to help anyone there, and that the TeamWorks staff that was gathering outside the tent would be in a better position to help everyone out, so I went over to the corner of table I had claiimed and tried to sleep.

A few minutes later, the TeamWorks folks walked around handing out space blankets, and then mentioned to us that if we wanted to, we could board one of the waiting buses they had lined up, where they'd take us to a relocation center [a very poor choice of words, if you ask me] down the road. After looking around, hearing the clanking of chairs, and feeling the cool breeze on my shirtless shoulders--I forgot to bring out a t-shirt when I left the tent--I took them up on the offer.

The relocation center turned out to be the showroom for the Richmond raceway--basically, a very big garage. The floor had that texture of a busy NTB--a combination of smooth concrete with occasional patches of motor oil and road grime. But at least it was dry and spacious. The space blankets, however, showed the dark and evil side to their otherwise shiny and heat-inducing nature: they crinkle when you do as much as touch them. One of these sheets is loud enough to wake the dead. Put 100 of these in an enclosed space and you have the teeth-gnashing equivalent of four dozen children with bags of Cheezetos at a matinee for Toy Story. Between snoring and the crinkleCrinkleCrinkle from people who treated them like actual blankets, 'twadn't a very restful night. But at least it was dry and warm.

Next day, on the bus, I got to sit next to Cher, one of my training ride buddies. Her shoulder provided a wonderfully soft place for a 5-minute nap until we got back to camp.

I learned this morning that I made the mistake of packing wet stuff in the compression pack, so the smell of musty clothing will follow me for the next two days, but the clothes are all still dry. I forgot to pack my camera in the sack as well, and the Palm and Omnisky fortunately remained dry in their ziplock container. But with the laughter of all of us trying to make the best out of a bad situation, the process of drying everything out became more of a party than an adventure into the land of the forlorn. The sight of Holly picking up her sleeping bag and it just running one steady stream of water onto the grass became amusing to both of us. When I looked into her tent and saw the absurdly huge puddles in it, and heard Holly's jestful description of her very own swimming pool, the giggling began. As she proceeded to empty out the tent with a paper cup, the full-fledged laughter began. The woman on the other side of my tent was also in dire straits, but the chamois towel came to the rescue again--that thing absorbs water something wicked!

What I would have written at 9PM had I not given up on the wireless thing: Day 3 is usually described to most first-timers as the most difficult day of the ride. In many respects, it is: after almost 200 miles of biking for two days, the third day adds numerous hills to the already difficult distance of 100.4 miles. This time around, we could also add cold rain throughout the morning to the equation. However, both of the times I've done this ride I've found that Day 3 has been the best day for me as a biker. Perhaps it's the proximity to well-known territory, or the knowledge that after the steep climb out of the lunch stop it's all pretty much mild rolling hills to Manassas.

Happy riders in a sag bus
Happy riders in a sag bus

Perhaps it's the beautiful stretch of woods that lines the approach to lunch. Regardless, by the time I reached the last pit stop I felt like I could ride on for another 40 miles. True, at lunch I had been a cold, wet and shivering mess due to my not bringing out the rain poncho in time, and I had almost contemplated calling it a day. However, the announcement that the ride would be stopped at the last pit stop made it easier to continue. From that stop we'd be bussed to a relocation center (again, images of knee-high boots and brown uniforms come to mind) because the original campsite was flooded. The last 20 miles of ride through a warm but mild summer sun near Quantico (the place where two years ago I broke my own speed record despite knee pains that did not show up this time) included a few minutes of singing sitcom theme songs with strangers, a great chat with one of the women on the motorcycle crew, and a welcome arrival at the middle school in Nokesville.

As we boarded the bus that would take us to camp, those in the bus would cheer the next person getting on. There's something very gratifying about walking into a room full of strangers that just start cheering you for no reason. Maybe we should all do that every now and then.

After we reached camp, one of the TeamWorks people got on the bus and explained that we could all sleep in the gym of the High School we'd be staying at, and that there were also classrooms we could use if we wanted to. She also said that those who wanted to stay in tents could do so. When someone asked "What's the protocol for setting up the tents?" she replied "I don't know, ask those people," pointing to those who had already squatted on whatever dry plot of ground was available. Wet sleeping bags, towels, gear, bags and tents covered every vertical surface in sight. The Mobile CityTM had become the Mobile Shantytown.

A squatter uses cleats to his advantage
A squatter uses cleats to his advantage.

I found earplugs in my bag. They'll be my salvation as I sleep in this large gym, full of sleepy riders with spaceCrinklers.

[In retrospect, I think it was the absurd amount of rain that fell in such a short amount of time that defined the Ride for a lot of us. It sort of put us all in a situation that was harder than what he had planned for, and yet just about everyone took the option of taking it in stride and finding ways of making the best of it. Having to confront it and continue riding brought back home the real reason why a lot of us are doing this Ride to begin with--to remember those who have died and to celebrate those who continue fighting this disease despite its difficulties. Compared to that life-and-death challenge, a night in the rain, or in a garage with CrinklyCrap, or in a gym full of people who snore, or biking in the rain or with wet gear becomes merely an amusing anecdote.]

Sunday, June 24, 2001

If I hadn't been excited and proud, I would have probably written something like this: Blessed be the many miles logged on business class flights across two oceans--I got plenty of earplugs out of them. While the night spent in the gym at Hylton High School outside of Manassas was somewhat cold, at least it wasn't noisy. Yeah, getting into wet biking shorts was hardly the best way of starting the last 45 miles of this trek, but lycra dries quickly when you shiver inside it.

The ride itself was uneventful, although full of pleasant chats and smiles and hugs with people excited that it was almost over. I ran into one coworker in Oakton, and missed a couple others on the ride.

For four days I had been looking forward to the last unofficial pitstop at the Java Shack, and sure enough, it didn't disappoint. Frozen coffee treats, sunshine, and cheering in Courthouse after a triumphant ride through Clarendon, which had set out a big banner welcoming us back home.

Welcoming Ceremonies
Thousands of riders arrive at the National Mall

The ceremonies at the end--well, they were emotional, and I cried, for reasons very different to those that caused tears last time. Two years ago, the four days on the road were a personal victory over twenty-three years of athletic failure. My whole ride was about me completing that big personal challenge. This time around, the ride for me was much more about everyone else around me.

Of course, meeting new people and realizing that I'm an incredibly lucky man played a significant role in shaping my attitude towards the whole event. However, and what surprised me the most, and what shook me up the most, is realizing how many people that I know are living with HIV. The number of Positive Pedalers flags I saw on bikes ridden by people I knew but who I did not know were going through this daily struggle made this event intensely real. Up until this weekend, AIDS and HIV were something that affected many of the communities I belong to, but not something that had touched me personally; I couldn't say I had lost friends or lovers to AIDS. I felt lucky, and in my tears felt almost as if I was leeching off of other people's sadness, like I was taking on a cause because I felt some sense of obligation to do so. It's different now; knowing that people who have affected my life are fighting a daily battle for survival fills me with a sense of delayed urgency and with what I can now identify as the helplessness and anger that fueled those who started groups like ActUP and GMHC. It fuels me with a renewed, even more intense, and much more selfless hope that there will be an end to this disease--but now, not only because I'm afraid of someday becoming one of its victims, but because I hope that the end of the disease will represent the return of full health to those I know.