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Closing ceremonies
Closing ceremonies in L.A. (AIDS LifeCycle photo)

UC Berkeley Web Feature

Bears on Bikes
Six Cal Team cyclists and a roadie reflect on the ride's highs, lows, and enduring memories

The 2,300 AIDS LifeCyle 6 cyclists raised a record $11 million for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center - and touched countless people in the process. Here are closing thoughts from seven members of the Cal Team, some of whom reported earlier from the road, following their June 9 finish in Los Angeles.

12 June 2007

Hailey Gilmore, Rider 4938: I remember the first day, not knowing what was ahead of me. I was terrified and relieved — terrified of the pain and relieved because it was exciting to be part of such a world-changing community. Now I am terrified and relieved to join the "real world" again — relieved because I honestly don't think my body could handle any more, terrified because I have lived, eaten, slept, and breathed this event and this cause 24 hours a day for the last seven days. How do I surround myself with people who haven't shared this experience? How do I not get frustrated with discourtesy, dishonesty, disrespect, and disillusion?

When I registered for the AIDS LifeCycle, I believed it was possible to complete. Somewhere in the middle of the ride, it felt impossible. But now, at the end, I have made it possible. And somewhere underneath the muscular pain, the heartache that it's over, and the joy of new friends and memories, there is a sense of accomplishment — not only for myself but for the awareness we've just raised in the communities we've touched and the people we will continue to help. I will definitely be back next year.

Caitlin Lempres Brostrom, Rider 5241: It is a very empowering feeling to feel so strong riding. It is an unexpected sensation to be able to push hard up hills day after day and still be able to climb on more. I believe everyone on this ride feels this way. And as a community of empowered people, we realize that not only can our bodies carry us hundreds of miles, but our community "body" can make change. It is this inspiration we take away from this week and apply to our personal concerns.

However, on this last day, I am tired. I am so ready to be done — to put my arms around my children and my husband and give thanks for the gifts of my own life.

Lisa Prach, Rider 6151: L.A. at last! 556 miles from San Francisco! The last seven days have been a roller coaster of emotion … from the highest high to near despair, and everything in between. Seeing the crowds line the streets in the last few miles and cheer us all to the end was such a fitting end to a wonderful journey. I would like to thank all my family and friends, everyone who supported me along the way: the roadies, moto crew, my teammates. Now I truly believe that a small group of dedicated people really can make a difference.

 6 Cal Team cyclists
Six Cal Team cyclists — Ashley Horne, Caitlin Lempres Brostrom, Lisa Prach, Devin Wicks, Geoffrey Suguitan, and Hailey Gilmore — at the finish in Los Angeles.

Christine Shaff, Roadie 9314: I don't really want the ride to be over, as is usually the case. Re-entry into the "real world" was hard the other six times I've done this. Today, again, I don't want it to intrude. But it does, and so I get to talk to people who have supported us, about how well ALC 6 went.

I had a great bike-parking team that worked really hard. Days 1 and 2 were both 15-hour days for us. I fully expected my crew to mutiny on Day 3, but they didn't; they kept smiling and supporting one another and the riders. We figured out the best system for scanning bikers' bar codes, to record that they made it to camp, and to park at least 10 bikes to a pole. My team members were amazing and I'm honored to have spent the week as their captain.

I have two favorite ride moments, both from our stop in Santa Maria. First: The morning of Day 5, Red Dress Day, is always a late one for the cyclists because it's a short-mileage day. Most of the riders dawdle in camp in the morning, leaving closer to the 8:30 a.m. cut-off time than other days — understandable since they've cycled nearly 400 miles in four days and have fabulous red outfits to show off. This year, they really took their time, and by 8:10 a.m. I had to fight the urge to panic; it looked like less than half the cyclists were out of camp. My whole team started hollering that the remaining riders had to get out — get on the road or take the bus.

Cyclists started swarming to reach the road and their departure took on the air of an evacuation. At one point, I looked back over my shoulder and saw a sea of red surging up a small hill toward the street, a flowing mass of bikes and crimson moving in the morning sun. It still astonished me that they were all gone by 8:30. As far as I know, there were no photographers to catch the exodus from camp that day; it's something I'll never forget.

A second memorable moment came at the end of Day 4. It's a hard day, nearly 95 miles. When I rode, seven years ago, I was one of the slower riders; I remember struggling on Day 4, thinking that if I could finish that day, I could finish the whole ride. Now, as a roadie, I stood near the cyclists' entrance into bike parking, around 6:30 p.m., watching the riders come in and enjoying the chorus of cheers raised by those who had reached the parking lot earlier and had returned to celebrate their fellow riders' return.

'I fully expected my crew to mutiny on Day 3, but they didn't.'
- Christine Shaff, roadie 9314

A man standing in front of me, who was obviously a visitor to the event, held a cup of coffee in each hand. The cyclist he was waiting for, a man probably in his mid 40s, rode into the parking lot, headed directly for the fellow with the coffee, fell into his embrace, and burst into tears. As the rider sobbed, I stepped forward and gently took the coffee cups from the supporter's hands so that he could really hug the rider. The mixture of relief, exhaustion, and joy were so  palpable that the two people next to me welled up, too, as we watched. When the rider was pulled together enough to park his bike, his friend retrieved the coffee and thanked me. "Oh," I told him, "it was really my pleasure, and it had kept my hands warm."

Ben Spoer, Rider 5630: I rode again this year, this time hoping to have the team community experience I missed last year as a solo rider, and it was wonderful. The friends I've made mean more to me that the miles I rode — not to mention that I did something good for the world. Thank you roadies, riders, my family, and Cal Team. Go Bears!

Geoffrey Suguitan, Rider 6277: I thought this was going to be an impossible journey. On Day 1, I never saw any end in sight.  As the days went on, I realized that L.A. was just around the corner. On Day 7, the impossible became possible. Who would have thought that I could make it down here in one piece? No accident, no flat tire. This is one experience I will never forget.

Devin Wicks, Rider 4286: It's funny. The first time I did the ride it was challenging. I was nervous, not sure what to expect. In the end, it felt magical — as though I had a chance to witness the beauty of the human spirit and the triumph that is born of determination and sheer will.

So when I decided to do this ride again, I knew what to expect in terms of the physical demands of the trip. But I wondered what my impressions would be by the time we reached L.A. Would I have a "magical moment" again? Would I still be moved at the sight of so many selfless acts? In truth, I worried that this trip wouldn't be the same kind of cathartic experience as the first, which had happened at a particular time in my life and made an impression on me that had shaped the person I am now.

So I decided on this trip to just "let go," not trying to force this journey to live up to what it had been before, but rather just to focus on the moment at hand — to find the beauty in its more subtle moments. With that, I began pedaling.

On trip two I felt many familiar sensations — the same burning in my legs, the same ache in my shoulders, the same frustration at facing yet another hill when all I wanted to do was sit down and relax. Along the way, I noticed something new — a deeper connection to the purpose of this event, a greater understanding of the "connectiveness" that is created when a community of strong wills pushes towards a common goal. I found this in the simplest moments.

'I decided on this trip to ... find the beauty in its more subtle moments. With that, I began pedaling.'

- Devin Wicks, Rider 4286

You see, I'm physically a strong person with a determined nature. So this ride was by no means the same kind of stretch for me as it was for some. But I was humbled by that rider who clearly had some very tough rides but was willing to give up a place in the lunch line for me. And by the rider who, though in the advanced stages of HIV, climbed every single hill that I did, doggedly determined not to be sagged into the next camp — and completed every mile.

On the last day of the ride, a lovely, older lady stood by herself at the side of the road. As I rode by, she said to me in a soft voice, "God bless you. You are doing amazing work." Normally, I would have thought how kind of her to think I was doing something so great. But this time I realized that her words were not for me as an individual, but for us all as a group, a group of people willing to make a bold statement.

I did have my "magical moment" this time. It didn't come from the triumph of riding 545 miles under my own power, but from seeing all the individuals who showed their strength and kindness through the simplest of acts. It made me thankful for the health that I have and the love and understanding I receive from my family and friends. It gave me hope that with a little determination, a bit of understanding, and some good, old-fashioned hard work, we as a group of concerned people can have an impact that reaches beyond our own individual grasp.

I'll end with a few facts. Worldwide:

•  A total of 39.5 million people now live with HIV/AIDS; 2.2 million of them are under the age of 15
  In 2006, an estimated 4.3 million people were infected with HIV; 530,000 were under the age of 15
  Every day 12,000 people contract HIV; that's 500 every hour
  In 2006, 2.9 million people died from AIDS; 380,000 of them were under the age of 15. That's one child dying per minute.

(Data Source: Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), AIDS Epidemic Update, December 2006.)