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AIDS/LifeCycle: The undesired day off

June 11, 2010 |  7:45 pm

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My worst fear in the weeks leading up to AIDS/LifeCycle was that I would get sick, suddenly and severely, just before the ride. I had no particular reason to fear this, but it loomed large in my imagination.

I made it to Day 6.

Coming to sometime last night, I knew the angel of death announced at dinner by the camp's medical director -- a "surge" in gastroenteritis -- had not passed harmlessly by my tent flaps. But it was at 8:30 a.m., 15 miles up a long grade out of Lompoc, when I acknowledged my reckoning, pulled into the first rest stop of the day and stumbled to the medical tent, face pale under my tears.

For days I've been mulling the themes of brokenness and recovery that pervade this ride. Much of the event's monumental back end (500 volunteers beyond the 1,925 cyclists) is devoted to ensuring that no rider is grounded or detained, that we all reach the end. If, as was the case often in the first few days, someone's old wheel gives out, there's another on hand in the Cannondale truck -- or, worst case, a loaner bike. A set of buses, trucks and vans under the aegis of SAG -- support and gear -- ensures that every rider and every bike makes it into camp. Sunburned and disappointed, in some cases, but intact. And a three-armed medical team, including massage and sports medicine personnel, keeps the cyclists themselves whole enough, mostly, to ride on. (I had to stop, but these calm, assured professionals steered my day from disaster.)

Yet even pondering this focus on resilience over pure strength, I hungered for the rawness of the challenge. I rose each day before the sun, left when the course opened and arrived in camp with the first small wave of riders, a little proud that my endless loops and climbs through Griffith Park had put me in the front ranks.

I'm the incorrigible veteran of three catastrophic bike injuries. Humility, I have learned, fills a vacuum. Taking in an IV drip and shuddering under a foil blanket today in a windy Santa Barbara County pass, I thought of what greater reckonings even I have known, how well I had made out this time. As we drove down later, another rider was being loaded into an ambulance -- victim, word had it in camp later on, of a tire blowout. When I wasn't sleeping in the medical tent today, I thought mainly of him.

AIDS/LifeCycle has -- you might say it is -- a broad and elegant apparatus for getting us all along the way. But not every brokenness can be healed; it may be that the day is lost, or worse. Tonight we'll hold a candlelight vigil on the beach for those who've died of AIDS. Whether I'll be able to ride the finish into L.A. tomorrow, I don't know yet. To wake up will be a gracious victory.

--Michael Owen

Above: The walkway to the beach where AIDS/LifeCycle participants hold a candlelight vigil for AIDS victims. Credit: Michael Owen

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A fleet of riders halfway to L.A.

AIDS/LifeCycle takes off for L.A.

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