Tonight I visited a friend whom I haven't seen for 4 years...  I met this guy at an AIDS lifecycle event... you know, that even that changed my life in more ways than one...

There was a kickoff party at the benefactor's house that had helped him raise more than $15,000 for AIDS research this year alone. It started at 5:30; I thought it was June 1st, but 2 hours after it started, I found out it was tonight. So I've been staring at this quote that I've had on my thought bubble for about a week; I knew there was a reason I didn't get rid of it.  It said "Winners are willing to do what losers won't"....

So I packed my little girl up, left my other little one with Grandma, and against all odds, made it there...by 10.  I whirled through the streets of San Francisco, efficiently making turns, and I arrive at the place.  My littlest starts crying in her carseat.  I think to myself; "I have a history with my friend... I am just going to take a risk....".  I walk up the steps to the front door of this beautiful house, the lights are dim; the porch light is off.  I sheepishly peak through windows that are impossible to be peaked through... lol  It's obvious the party is over; or it's not even the right night.  If I were younger, I wouldn't have knocked, more out of fear of looking stupid than common sense..lol I don't know which is better at this point tonight.... 

Anyway, there's this guy with dark rimmed glasses that opens the door and he says "You forgot the food."  I search his face for some sort of expression...  I said "I'm here for the party", he urges me inside, and says again, "Did you forget the food?" And I thought, "You've got to be kidding me.".. I tell him I was here to wish Petr well on his ride.  He says "Oh, okay, hold on; I think he's sleeping.." I begin to tell him I'm sorry, and he tells me "Don't you dare be sorry. I'll go get him."  I look upstairs, and a young woman with spikey hair waves down at me... I quietly call out "Former ALC rider here, hello.." and she gives me a chipper hello. 

I wait in the spacious foyer; I notice the genuine library with authentic antique hardcover books, the floor was GORGEOUS deep cherry colored wood outlined with a blonde border around it... It was just an exquisite house, but I was happy to be waiting in the foyer.. It was safe.  Glasses guy keeps me company while Petr makes his way down, and I find that he has a very dry but very funny personality; hence the deadpan humor. Thank god. He is awesome; it turns out he's on the team and has been for the past three years since I've been out of ALC, producing kids, getting married and such.

Petr comes down; he's as handsome and happy as I remember; I give my soul brother a big hug; he's warm from sleep. :)  He and I sit on the shiny warm wood floor of the foyer so as not to make too much noise and wake the sleeping riders; they have a weeks worth of cycling and camping, and this is their last opportunity to get a good night's sleep.  I respect these riders, as they are making this world a better place.  I respect Petr too, as I'm sure he's raised more than $150,000 for the cause; probably more than I realize.

These people will ride FIVE HUNDRED and EIGHTY FIVE MILES; starting from the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and they will be riding to Santa Cruz the first day. Roll out is 6:30am.  I can remember when I rolled out that first day; I was so antsy, but so proud to be doing what I was doing.. I do recall being a little burnt out from the training; I was riding more than 150 miles a week.  Petr does about that in his sleep; he's truly a mentor to me; he's the godfather of road cycling in my eyes.  He's also build like a nordic God with a face to match, and a personality as even keel as.... I can't recall anyone being as mellow or humble as he is. 

So back to the route. They will take Highway one all the way down; and take many different roads other than that.. The route is secret every year, because there are many gay riders who are afraid of bashing; there are HIV positive pedalers, and well, there's a lot of fanfare that happens along the way, such as screaming transvestites urging the last bit of energy out of your legs and your heart.  It's like a giant circus on wheels; quite hilarious really. 

So these kindred spirits will ride on average 80 (with massive hills) to 120 miles (flat with agonizing crosswinds) a day, park their bikes in these gigantic spaces, eat a couple dinners, get a massage, take a shower, maybe go to entertainment at the end of the night, build their tent, and sleep.  Now, if you are me; you just sleep after dinner and shower.  If you are Petr, you are one of the riders who gets there first, and you start building tents for those in your area, and you have enough energy to hit the evening entertainment, with a sparkling personality to top it all off.  I was fortunate to have him and his friend and tentmate"Crackhead" next to me, as my tent was always (luckily) set up for me. 

Imagine riding all that way, pulling in and having to wait in a line of 30 people just to eat and go to the bathroom and shower.  Let's just say you can have your accomodations worked out for you, but there are *no joke here* more than 1500 people you have to maneuver around.  It makes for a tough day, especially after say, the third day when your legs are perpetually burning, your ass is killing you from that tiny seat, your skin is fried from the sun and your face is burnt from the wind when you decend.  It's an awesome experience.

When I rode, I had my ups and downs; the first day I felt great, the second day a bit used up, the third day I was weeping *thats hill day*, the fourth day after the first hour off pain you are numb, and the fifth through the seventh days are really, well, more of the same.. I noticed I was getting stronger with every day, which was kind of exciting... but I have more to tell than that.

At a certain point, I am reminiscing here, I was climbing this hill all by myself for the moment; it was day three, I had visited the last rest stop and I was just fried.  I mean spent.  I think it was really hot that day too, so my legs are heavy, my lungs are thick.  I'm really dragging up this hilll.  Alll of a sudden I hear a whirring behind me, and the shifting of gears.  I look under my left arm; there's a rider just pounding on the pedals behind me.  I try to get my ego intact and look the normally competitive part, but it's just no use.  He powers past me in his big ring, and he's sporting an orange flag.  He's one of the very few HIV 'Positive Pedallers, as they call them on the ride. 

I break down and just lose it.  My perspective immediately shifts.  I'm feeling sorry for myself because I'm in pain, but this guy is literally dying and he's not only in better shape than I am, but he's whirring past me like he's driving a Ferrari.  Pain is all relative; it was truly an existential moment for me.  I was digging deep; and I was shown that I couldn't even begin to dig as deep as this guy.  So that was a beautiful experience; it made me learn so much about myself in relation to others.

Riding on this ride feels so good spiritually also.  With every push of your pedal, you are saving someone's life. With every breath you take, you are giving someone else back their own.  I saw so many riders with pictures on their backpacks full of provisions... they were all faces of those who are afflicted with this horrible disease called AIDS.  This woman's son.  This child's mother.  This man's brother. All these faces are real people who may not make it; or have already left this earth.  It was such a deep sorrowful realization for me.  It was such a painful, beautiful experience.

So when I look at someone like Petr, all I can do is smile and shake my head.  He is truly an angel on earth, and it's an honor to have met someone like him.  It's an honor to know him.  That, my friends, is gratitude I wish everyone could experience. It's the deepest experience to share that with such a large group of people. It's the reason I spent an hour driving to see him for half an hour, just to drive an hour back.  This is why I still think it's possible to change the world; if an event can happen like that year after year and it is saving children in Africa, that means it is possible to steer the world free of AIDS.

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Comments:

bam920
Jun. 1, 2008 at 7:07 AM Thanks for sharing.  So glad that you made the trip and effort.  As for the biking, I can't even imagine!!!

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Cecropia
Jun. 1, 2008 at 10:28 AM

That experience sounds amazing.  Kudos to you and your friend for making a difference.

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firef...
Jun. 3, 2008 at 12:29 PM

First let me just say WOW!   I am so impressed with you, sister!  And "impressed" isn't even the right word.  I mean, first of all, there is your heart -- it can hear it swelling and beating in your writing.  Your compassion for humanity is so evident here.  Then, you bring me right back to that place that I suspect only athletes know really well -- but that we've all tasted...  That place where we cross some internal doorway when we push our bodies so hard that only our spirit can lift us the rest of the way home.  The only other time that I've heard this feeling expressed is by Ironman athletes.  You really have a gift, mama.  You should be writing for Outdoor magazine -- interviewing people like your Petr (and Laird Hamilton - HUBBA HUBBA!).

You are really on to something with your cycling as a euphemism.  I don't have to remind you that when we write from our heart, we become more powerful.  To have your talent for writing and a niche that also holds your passion is a rare gift indeed.  Use it, mama.

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