Millions of people have made the trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but far fewer have done it on a bicycle. On Sunday, 2,150 cyclists will brave the 545-mile trip as part of the seven-day AIDS/LifeCycle ride to raise money to care for people with HIV.
This is the ride's ninth year, and the fundraiser, co-produced by the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, is part athletic feat, part camping trip, part social gathering and part celebration. This year the trip goes through 57 towns and jurisdictions, plus eight counties. It features riders from age 18 to 80 who are from 41 states and Washington, D.C., and eight countries. They will consume 420 gallons of coffee (is that all?), 44,600 eggs, 6,000 Clif bars, and 5,400 Pop-Tarts. Yes, Pop-Tarts.
To get the scoop on what first-time riders should expect, we spoke with David Rae, who is participating in his third ride. The financial planner from West Hollywood heads up the 30-person Team Popular (it's not an ego thing, they named themselves after the song from "Wicked"), which has so far raised about $150,000.
The first time Rae rode in the event, it was to challenge himself athletically. Although he didn't even own a bike, he bought one and started training. His training for this year included shorter rides during the week and a longer ride on the weekends out to Malibu, Ventura or Palos Verdes. He also organized a team training overnight ride to Santa Barbara: "This gives people a sampling of the real ride, with rest stops, and you get to meet new people."
Doing copious amounts of cardio is the best preparation, says Rae; that includes group cycling classes, the elliptical trainer and anything else that gets the heart rate up for an extended period. But doing the actual ride, he discovered, isn't about getting all Lance Armstrong and beating everyone else, it's about raising money, doing something healthful and experiencing the camaraderie that comes from participating in such a sizable event.
"There's so much support," he said. "There are cheerleaders who are out there with megaphones cheering you on, and people will even give you a push if you need it. It's not a race by any stretch of the imagination. If you get a flat tire, people will stop and help you. Doing the ride is actually easier than the training, since there are organized pit stops and food every 20 miles. You get more breaks than you do while you're training. The energy is always there -- it's like summer camp."
The AIDS/LifeCycle ride starts in San Francisco and ends in Los Angeles. Photo from last year's event courtesy of AIDS/LifeCycle