Team CamelBak Riding In AIDS/ LifeCycle
Pride Month: Why the AIDS/LifeCycle Ride is So Important
We caught up with Jen Toland, CamelBak Category Planner, and got a behind the scenes look at the mental, emotional, and physical preparation for the AIDS/LifeCycle Ride.
AIDS/ LifeCycle Ride is a 7 day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, co-produced by benefitting San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. The event raises awareness about the ongoing HIV/AIDS Epidemic and funds services such as HIV testing, prevention and much more. Jen Toland and Jamie Furrer will be on Team CamelBak and we are honored and stoked to cheer them on!
This Is How We Roll
Here we are, day 0 of ALC2022. I just got done with Orientation Day. I checked in, picked up my fundraising incentives, watched the safety presentation, dropped my bike off, applied my numbers and luggage markers…. Whew, did I miss anything? I don’t think so…
I’m reminded once again of exactly how much goes into producing and participating in the ALC. People work year round to produce this event, just like people train year round to ride the event. Volunteers put their lives aside for a minimum of a week to support the event and its participants. It’s a heavy lift.
Why do we do it? Why do we dedicate so much time to preparing, training, fundraising… we do it for those that can’t. For the ones we lost to HIV/AIDS. For those living with HIV/AIDS. We do it to raise awareness and money to help people, to fight stigma. We do it for our community. Each and every person involved in this event is here because of love for our community.
I’m fortunate enough to have ridden in this event 4 times, this will be my 5th year. Wow… 5 years riding 545 miles each time. Every year am touched to see how much love there is, I feel so fortunate to be part of it. What a gift it is to be part of this community. This community also includes all of the people that made financial contributions, we wouldn’t be here without you. Thank you.
Tomorrow, June 6 at 6am, WE RIDE! We ride for a better future, we ride for our community! We’ll see many sights along the way… The parents that have lost children to HIV/AIDS that cheer us on in the blistering heat to let us know we are making difference. The silly costumes people will wear on themed days, I’ll be one of them, stay tuned. ;) The beautiful views from the route. Best of all, we will see thousands of people moving in the same direction for the same cause, as a team, driven by love for one another.
This is how we roll!
Ride Day 1: Soaked to the Core
82 miles, San Francisco to Santa Cruz
What a day. The weather was not great. We were soaked to the core. Sagging (catching a ride to camp) was a very real option at rest stop 2, which was about 30 miles in to our 80-mile day. . It felt as though we’d ridden so much further than that!
With water sloshing in my shoes, I looked at my teammates and said, “Hotel room tonight?” They immediately responded with an enthusiastic, “YES!” Best decision we made this whole trip!
It rained hard for half of the day but luckily cleared up at lunch, and I could dry my feet out a bit. After lunch the weather got much better and we made it to Santa Cruz at a reasonable time.
An amazing friend met us at the finish line with cute signs she made with her daughter, and chocolate covered strawberries. She gave us a ride to our hotel and we got checked in, ordered Thai food for dinner, and watched Golden Girls while we stretched. It was a fabulous way to wrap up a challenging day.
Ride Day 2: The Longest Stretch
105 miles, Santa Cruz to King City
Let’s get it! Feeling rested and ready for a long day in the saddle. The same friend that picked us up yesterday gave us a ride back to camp at 5am. Again, a true friend!
Today is Safety Orange Day. We all wore orange shirts with reflective hearts, and rainbow socks. I was the most fashion forward in the group wearing a rainbow tutu.
The route took us through mostly agricultural land called the “Salad Bowl”— cutting in from the coast to head inland to the central valley.
One of my favorite stops on the ride is the fried artichoke stand. Not for the artichokes, but for the fresh fruit. You will never taste a better strawberry in your life! I challenge you.
It started to warm up and the next day was going to be HOT! We all made it to camp safely, but later than we wanted. We showered, ate dinner, and went to bed.
Ride Day 3: Busting Quads
60 miles, King City to Paso Robles
This day was HOT—VERY HOT! We also had a Quad Buster-climb on the ride that is fairly steep and kind of long. If you live anywhere in Northern California, it’s not that bad. BUT there are some people that will do hill repeats on it!
This year the headliner for hill repeats on Quad Buster was a 70-year-old man that climbed it seven times to celebrate his 70th birthday. He dedicated each hill repeat to someone he lost to AIDS.
Lunch was at an elementary school in Bradley, CA. The children at the school make buttons and bracelets for us to purchase and they also have a BBQ where we can purchase cheeseburgers.
They have a $100 burger club; if you pay $100 for your burger, you get a table in the shade and someone serves you lunch. The money they raised goes toward purchasing school supplies, field trips, art program, school sports, and trimester citizenship celebrations for all students, as well as upgrading the school’s technology. This year they raised $75,000!
After a delicious lunch and a nap in the shade we went back to our bikes to finish the ride. On the way to our bikes, we packed our CamelBak packs and bottles with ice to keep ourselves cool. The Fusion Reservoir is PERFECT for this! Loved it!
When I got to my bike my Garmin said the temperature was 115 degrees. Yikes! We ended up filling our CamelBak packs and bottles with ice at every rest stop. I took my arm sleeves and tied them together to shove ice in them so I could wear them around my neck. It was miserably hot.
At camp it was time for the Luau! Lorri Jean, the CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, retired this year. Lorri Jean started the ALC ride in 1994, it was called the California AIDS Ride then. In her tenure as CEO of the center she raised over $300-million dollars for HIV/AIDS research and services.
We all dressed in Hawaiian shirts and dedicated some time to sending Lorri Jean off in style. We love you, Lorri Jean!
This was also the windiest night I have ever spent in a tent. My tent was more like a parachute than a tent. The wind drug my 60-pound suitcase about six-feet while we were at dinner! Sheesh! Sleep was sparse.
Ride Day 4: Climbing the Evil Twins
88 miles, Paso Robles to Santa Maria
Today we climb the Evil Twins . At the top of the climb is the halfway point to LA; it’s an epic photo op! The descent on the back side is epic, as well.
This is my fifth year doing this ride and it’s always a mixed bag of emotions for me. It feels good to have completed half of the ride but I also know we only have half of the ride left.
I love this community and I love being on this ride; it’s one of the only times in my life I feel like I can be 100% myself for an entire week without judgement. I feel comfortable in my skin, I feel love and joy from the people around me. I can’t describe what it feels like to have 3,000 people moving in the same direction, striving for the same goal, and doing it all with love an acceptance. It’s the best feeling in the world.
Feelings done, time for CINNAMON ROLLS!
Another amazing part of the ride. We hustle from the halfway point to Pismo to get cinnamon rolls from Old West Cinnamon Rolls – The BEST cinnamon rolls you will ever have.
After I make myself sick on sugar, we ride on…well I try to ride on. I am so full of cinnamon rolls, I am sick. I was able to overcome my nausea and make it to camp. Another great day on the bike!
Ride Day 5: It’s Red Dress Day!
42 miles, Santa Maria to Lompoc
Today is a short day and the theme is Red Dresses. We do this so we look like a big AIDS ribbon on the road while we are riding—it’s quite the sight!
People go all out for this day; think RuPaul’s Drag Race on bikes. I donned my rainbow tutu for the second time, with a red t-shirt and red suspenders. The detail that brought my outfit together was a fabulous $6 pair of sunglasses from Amazon.
At lunch the rest stop crew put on our own version of “Squid Game” with squirt guns! It was so fun! We made it through Squid Game and were able to make it back to camp pretty early.
We took showers, ate dinner, watched the talent show, and just relaxed in camp. It was a great day. I did end up going back for second dinner… Second dinner is a thing on the ALC.
Ride Day 6: Best Day Ever
89 miles, Lompoc to Ventura
The theme for the day was “Best Day Ever.” And it truly was! There were a couple stops on the route that brought me great joy.
The first of three fun stops on the day’s route was lunch!
At lunch we got to visit with our friend’s stepmother who has been following the ALC ride by hula hooping on the side of the road ALL DAY, every day cheering on cyclists! We took a moment to say hello, take some photos, and talk to her about what she’s seen on the trip. In the end she told us we had to go because she had cyclists to cheer on.
Lunch was a blast! The ALC mascot Coney (the safety cone) came by to say hello while we were eating! Then our friend was attacked by a SHARK! Ok, not a real shark, just someone dressed as a shark. Many laughs were shared at lunch.
Paradise Pit is in Santa Barbara and is the second of three fun stops on this route. Although Paradise Pit was sponsored by Amazon this year, it first began when a group of residents decided there needed to be a stop for cyclists participating in the then California AIDS Ride. So, they got people from the community together and started offering ice cream to the cyclists. This is a 100% volunteer run stop and not an official stop on the ALC route, it’s been happening for 20+ years!
This day was long though, so we had to keep moving in order to get to camp in time for the Candlelight Vigil. On to the dance party!
The third of THREE SUPER FUN stops was the dance party! YAY! We finally made it! The rest stop was on the coast. We got to watch a pod of dolphins playing in the ocean while we danced our hearts out. Laughing and dancing fills me with such joy! BEST DAY EVER!
On top of all that, there is an In and Out Burger very near the campsite that I usually visit when I get to camp. Unfortunately, we got into camp a little late this time and we wanted to make sure we made it to the Candlelight Vigil so we decided to eat in camp.
On the last day of the ride there is a Candlelight Vigil. It’s a moment to reflect on loved ones that have been lost to AIDS and a time to say a prayer for those living with HIV/AIDS. It’s why we ride.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence join us to facilitate the vigil, to bless our candles and say a prayer. It’s a somber and tender moment on an otherwise boisterous and flamboyant ride.
Ride Day 7: Lifesavers and Chicken Ladies
68 miles, Ventura to Los Angeles
Every year Chicken Lady (a well-known long-time participant of the ride) leaves a plastic egg on our bike seats at night with an empowering message and a LIFE SAVERS® candy in it.
On the candy it said, “You are a true Lifesaver!!”
The note said:
Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every Rainbow
‘Till you find your dream
Bloom and Grow Forever,
—Chicken Lady, ALC ‘22
The last day is bittersweet. I can’t believe it’s over! The thought of leaving this community for a year makes me sad.
Thinking about all that we have accomplished, the people that I met along the way, the training completed to get here, and most of all the lives we have changed by fundraising makes me so very happy.
I am so thankful for this event; I learned how to truly love and accept myself on this event. I have grown in so many ways here. I will be forever grateful for everyone that works to keep this event on the rails year after year, and for working EXTRA hard to bring it back to life after COVID.
Life after COVID, just like life after the AIDS epidemic, will be forever changed. As a community we will continue to gain strength when faced with adversity. We are here to stay!
I can’t wait to see my ALC family again next year stronger and better than ever!