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AIDS/LifeCycle takes off for L.A.

June 6, 2010 |  7:37 pm
It felt like someone was about to launch a spaceship this morning before dawn in Daly City, just south of San Francisco, where 2,000 or so cyclists -- participants in AIDS/LifeCycle, a 545-mile fundraising ride -- were massing for the start of a journey to Los Angeles. A long line of rented trucks sat in the dark, red running lights aglow as their holds swallowed suitcases and sleeping bags up corrugated metal ramps. (Ubiquitous roadies man these machines; their volunteer labor powers the event.)

People in neon vests efficiently directed arriving taxis with glow sticks, as if they were on a tarmac, and cowbells, as if they were outside a rodeo venue. (In fact they were the latter, though the Cow Palace is also host to religious conventions and -- in the coming weeks -- a Slayer concert.) Inside, their bikes lined up in place of livestock, riders filled bottles with water and tires with air.

By 7:15 we were on the road. Cycling is always either a quest or a proxy for flight, in its love of aerospace composites, its wars with wind and gravity, its steady, often solitary pairing of rider and sky. Ragged astronauts, we thrusted from the San Francisco peninsula into the blind and prospectively frightening gap of seven days on the road -- nothing but solar iPhone chargers to feed our links to Earth.

Still, in space people don't line the roads to cheer you. AIDS/LifeCycle is a fundraising vehicle -- it pays for HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention -- and it's meant to draw participants from beyond the rosters of double centuries. So the rest stops are frequent, and lavishly stocked by sponsoring makers of snacks and sports drinks. The roadside cheering is giddily abundant. And the weather today blessed our cause: The tailwind into Santa Cruz nearly howled, and more than elsewhere on the day's course it had us flying.

--Michael Owen

Photos: Top, a stretch of California 92. Bottom, riders leaving the Cow Palace at the start. Credit: Michael Owen