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Bears on bikes
Day 5: Two perspectives on ride's Dress Red Day

Two members of the Cal Team, graduate student Lisa Prach and adjunct lecturer Caitlin Lempres Brostrom, were inspired to report back from the road at the end of Day 5. Lisa Prach is a third-year UC Berkeley grad student in molecular and cell biology, studying the biochemistry of tuberculosis. While in South Africa recently for a biology conference, she met young children on the outskirts of Cape Town and Johannesburg who were being treated for, or had been orphaned by, TB and HIV. The experience moved her to "take greater action" to help combat these diseases. In the future, she hopes to continue doing research that will lead to better treatment and prevention of infectious diseases. Here's her report (followed by Brostrom's):

— What an amazing day today! How much a little rest and relaxation can change your outlook! When I got into camp at the end of Day 4, with a sore bottom, an aching shoulder, a knee that felt like it would explode, and a left quad muscle that was way overused, I began to wonder why I was doing this. But then I looked around me in camp, noticed the shared change in attitude, and then realized that Day 5 would be a mere 43 miles — nothing compared to the long days of riding behind us. I felt a little recharged, and decided right then to sleep in a bit (until 6 a.m.) and take my time on the ride today.


Riders honoring Dress Red Day in Minnie Mouse drag. (Lisa Prach photo)  

Day 5 is the ride's infamous Dress Red Day — or as some people have dubbed it, Red Dress Day. As I went getting ready to ride, I was impressed by the elaborate and flamboyant costumes that people had contrived. From the men and women dressed as Minnie Mouse, to those dressed as cowgirls (boots over cycling shoes included), to all the guys in red sequins, sparkles, halter tops, short skirts, everyone showed their support for The Cause in their own way. The excitement and enthusiasm in camp and on the road was back, higher, even, than it had been on Day 1. And it was infectious. Suddenly, I stopped noticing my sore muscles and aches and pains and I was ready to ride.

The miles today flew by in a way they haven't since I started out. In no time I was at the first rest stop, eating a second breakfast and hanging out. With seven hours to complete the course and less than 45 miles to cover, I was in no hurry. A few significant hills stood between me and lunch, but it was nothing like the 10-mile climb on the first day or Quad Buster on Day 3. Once you've completed those sections, everything else seems like a cakewalk. I relaxed at the two rest stops, hung out at lunch for nearly two hours, and still got into camp around 1:30 p.m. Total time in the saddle: less than three and a half hours.

Although I've lived in California for nearly three years now, I have never really been to SoCal, unless you count driving down I-5 (which I don't). So each mile that I ride leads me to new sights and different ecosystems. The other day, I saw artichokes growing for the first time ever; the smell of strawberry fields followed me for miles shortly after that. Brown, rolling hills with sparsely placed oak trees faded to flat farm land and small towns. Seeing your country is an amazing experience, but seeing it at bike-riding pace and under your own power really adds to the opportunity. I wouldn't miss this for the world.

Yet this experience is truly made by the people, the extraordinary people I've met on this ride: my Cal teammates, with whom I have bonded, the HIV-positive riders, those doing the ride for a loved one with AIDS, newbies as well as those who have been involved with the ride for years. Every demographic is represented on ALC6. We have all come together to help one cause and to form a community, even if just for one week. And beyond raising money for the SF AIDS Foundation and LA Gay and Lesbian Center, we have come together to raise awareness. Seeing people on the side of the road clap their hands, watching children cheer us on, and hearing car horns honk makes me believe that our actions really are making a difference.

My pedaling may not amount to much, but multiply that by 2,500 and pretty soon the statement is loud and clear: we believe in this cause and will keep riding until the AIDS epidemic is no longer.

Caitlin Lempres Brostrom is a mother of six (ages 2 to 12) who celebrated her 45th birthday on Day 1 of the ride. Born and raised in Berkeley, she's a practicing architect and an adjunct lecturer at UC Berkeley (where she also earned her master's degree). Having raised more than $10,000 in pledges, she's on the road this week "not just to revisit the real California" and "set a positive example for my children," but for a bigger vision: "If we all do what we can for … our known and unknown neighbor, accepting all of our differences and similarities as immaterial to the reality of our shared humanity, this will be a much better world."

It is only 7:30 p.m. and I feel envious of my tent mate, who is already nestled in her sleeping bag. I am physically exhausted in a new way, that I cannot excuse by a busy family and work life — just the fact that I chose to ride a bike 422 miles since Sunday.

  bikes on ground and riders in red clothes
Lunchtime on Dress Red Day (Devin Wicks photo)
 

Still, today is the first day that really, truly seemed easy. The scenery was not as good as other days, but the physical distress was minimal. We have had days of intensity: long hard climbs, flying descents, life-threatening cross winds, cloudless skies over the Pacific, tail winds that coast you up hills at 20 miles per hour, and too much junk food and Gatorade. And here we are in Lompoc, Day Five now drawing to a close, the dinner announcements no longer echoing through our camp. It was a day that felt like a vacation from "The Ride"; we covered only 42 miles.

Day 5 has a special designation: Red Dress Day. I am sure there is lore about the creation of this tradition; the story I have heard is that our route looks a bit like the red-ribbon symbol when we all wear red. On the ground, it is a wonderful display of personality. Everyone is quite proud of his or her chosen ensemble. People donned evening gowns, tutus, feather boas, platform spike-heeled boots (with attached cleats), belly-dance costumes, and everything in between. At rest stop no. 2, in Casmalia, the local PTA set up a fundraiser; they fed us BBQ'd steaks and played dance music in the streets. There was a lot of dancing and laughter. It was all quite simple and fun.

The costumes, combined with the short riding day and the approaching end in L.A., is surely the cause for everyone's giddiness. Two days ago we thought it would never end; it is all downhill from here. Tomorrow, Santa Barbara. Saturday, Los Angeles. And then we all go back to our individual lives, enriched and committed to this cause.

Why do I ride? Having lived my entire 45 years in California, being allowed to travel through so many familiar, yet hidden, landscapes has been an incredible gift. Connecting all the dots of my favorite places with my own physical energy is empowering and uplifting. If just for this reason, everyone should take this ride.


Caitlin Lempres Brostrom (Devin Wicks photo)
 

However, there is a much greater reason for this ride, as well. The HIV epidemic and its unreasonable, continued growth has reignited my old fears from the 1980s. I now have six children. Will they contract it? The largest growing group to become infected are young heterosexual women. I have four daughters.

Truthfully, like a large portion of our community, I have come to see AIDS as an avoidable and controllable disease, and therefore not as critical as it once seemed. In fact, though, there are cultural and social barriers, as well as misconceptions within all communities, that allow for the increasing spread of the disease. Two nights ago, at dinner, a speaker asked all the riders with HIV to stand up. Many did. Through my tears, I saw all their faces. I saw my children. I saw the real faces of this disease.

I am honored to have been able to put everything in my crazy hectic life on hold and pedal as hard as my body can, as far as I possibly can, to make a difference.