Friday Night, June 7
We cruised into downtown Ventura on a mission. We wanted a nice bar to watch game two of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Nets. Dr Debra, a New Jersey woman, is pulling for the Nets and is silenced every time LA David gives us the score update on his phone. Hey, Internet on the phone, and I can’t get a wireless connection on my pc!?
George finds us a fine restaurant and the 10 of us dine on the final night of our amazing ride. George asks the table for quiet and asks me to give a toast.
“Michael, you’re a writer, and a poet - you give the toast.” My mind is blank. To what do we toast? Do we toast to having some real food instead of the tent city swill? Do we pay homage to the rhomboid muscle God? Something comes to mind, and it went something like this:
“We’ve had a hard week, and had some great times together. I’d like to toast to our friendship, and to recognize that we are getting back what we have put in, spirit and heart.” Not bad, but not exactly a keeper either, a bit of a yawner in fact. By this stage we are burnt physically and emotionally. “Here’s to us” would have sufficed.
After dinner we stroll over to Ben and Jerry’s for ice cream. Yep, I get one more scoop of the stuff. When we’re all satisfied, we decide we should get back to camp.
The charter bus George flagged down wasn’t coming back so we were on our own. George claims the camp is in walking distance, but there is no consensus. With no consensus, George is in his element.
“This way,” he commands and begins to walk south. We follow slowly at first, but pick up speed and trek southward. After crossing through an intersection, the street darkens quickly. The street ends at a chain link fence overlooking a very busy, four lane thoroughfare.
“Now where?” asks Paul. “We can’t go walking on the freeway.”
Without a word, George sprints down the street out of sight. Apparently George needed to run off his dinner. He is back a few moments later and assures us there is a walkway we can take that will lead us to camp. There is dissention. Tessa, a lanky twenty-something, and Jorge turn west and we follow. George brings up the rear.
“Now where?” asks Paul. No one answers. George turns south again.
“It says bike lane down there. We can take that to camp.” Tessa and Jorge continue west. Near the bike path is an inn, tucked under very dark trees. George and Paul investigate, the rest of us follow Tessa and Jorge.
Within a few moments, Paul and George walk up without David, Debra, and Caroline. George had flagged a motorist down and negotiated a lift for Debra and Caroline, suggesting to the driver that David come along for company. Apparently the driver agreed.
I spy a cab and, in true urban fashion, fingers in mouth, I whistle loudly and put my arm out. The cab swerves three lanes over in response, stopping inches from my knees. George is disappointed.
“We could have walked there.” We pile in and head off for the 10 minute cab ride to camp, making it by 10pm. I dose up on Advil, and feel the numbing in my shoulder. Will I be able to ride tomorrow?
Saturday, June 8
Piece of cake.
I start riding at 7:20am, and am at lunch by 10:30. 40 miles in just over three hours. By my standards, I was cooking. My legs felt great and the pain in my shoulder was tolerable.
I arrived at the end by 12:20, making 62 miles, including the stop for lunch in five hours. There weren’t many in at that time, but those who were there gave each rider hearty woohoos. I had finished. The ride for me was over.
George, Jackie, and Paul called my cell phone to say they had also arrived in Santa Monica at 12:20, but had stopped for lunch at a restaurant. They were going to hang there until closing ceremonies at 4pm. In fairness, I started 40 minutes ahead of them, and made only one stop. That was my only hope of being anywhere near them at the end. What that means is that if I was cooking, they were nuclear!
As it turned out, I stayed and watched each rider come in, each one adding to the crowd, which made each woohoo slightly louder than the last one.
George and the gang finally arrived and we spent an hour or so finding our new comrades in arms, congratulating one another, saying goodbye, trading email addresses, and breathing a collective, exhaustive sigh of relief. We had made it.
It was then that I again thought of The Wizard of Oz. In the story, the search for awareness and knowledge takes Dorothy on a dangerous adventure, risking her life for one purpose, to get back home. In the end she realized that what she really needed was far closer to her than she knew. Her adventure showed to her that the strength and knowledge to survive in a hostile world was already within her, that she only needed the opportunity for it to blossom.
In a way, that is what the AIDSRide is about. Fighting AIDS seems so daunting, so mysterious, and is so misunderstood. Some beliefs about AIDS are tied to cultural assumptions and traditions that may block progress. Without the courage to engage these barriers to understanding, we are left much like Dorothy, scared and powerless.
I am tired and thinking of my family. As I stand on the field with the other riders, listening to the AIDSRide commencement, I am thinking of a single line from the film: There’s no place like home.