AIDS/LifeCycle Advice, Part 1: Signing up

For those of you who followed the saga on LiveJournal and Facebook earlier this year, I participated in AIDS/LifeCycle 9 (ALC 9), an epic 545-mile bicycle ride to benefit the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the LA Gay and Lesbian Community Center.  I was successful in completing the ride and, thanks to my many wonderful donors, helped raise over $5,000 to support the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in their mission to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and to help provide quality of life to those already infected.  Participating in this ride is one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done, and while I have decided to skip ALC 10, I really do hope to participate in ALC 11 and future events.

A friend has decided to participate this year, though, and it sparked the idea of giving some advice to those considering it for themselves.  So, without further ado, here’s the first installment of my advice for ALC prospectives.  All of these posts are going to take the form of my responses to common statements and questions surrounding the ride.

I’ve decided to participate in ALC.

Good for you!  Unless you’re already fighting major social issues and a veteran bicycle tourist, this is going to be one of the most challenging, exciting, and emotionally moving things you’ve done.  I mean it.  You’re going to get in shape like you’ve never been before, you’re going to do something very real and meaningful to fight a deadly disease, you’re going to make some new friends, and you’re going to have an amazing adventure as you ride through some of the most beautiful and iconic scenery of one of America’s most beautiful and iconic states.  It’s a win-win situation, and you won’t regret your decision for a moment.

I think ALC is exciting, but I don’t think I can raise enough money.

Believe it or not, that’s what I said, and I nearly didn’t sign up because I didn’t believe anyone would donate to my ride.  The qualifying mark for donations sounds high, but it really isn’t that bad as long as you’re committed to it.  I was able to raise $5,000, well over the qualifying mark, almost completely through Facebook, family, and friends.  Note that I didn’t go to a single business to ask for support or sponsorship, I didn’t pound the pavement, I didn’t try to latch on to local events, I didn’t work through a team…I basically begged among my family and friends and Facebook circle, and I discovered that, in fact, it is possible to raise that kind of money.  People are generous and most of them actually do want to do something good for the world.  They’re waiting for an excuse to do that.  Your decision to join ALC and train for the ride is their excuse to be charitable.  By committing to this ride, you are not only stepping up in an act of personal heroism but also encouraging heroism in everyone around you as you seek your fundraising quota.  Don’t be afraid of the fundraising requirement…sign up and start getting your social circle involved!  You can do it, and the ALC staff have produced some wonderful materials to help you get there!

I want to ride in ALC, but I don’t think I can ride that far.

I bet you can!  Just like above, you shouldn’t sell yourself short.  No matter how unprepared you think you are, you’re probably more capable than you know.  Did you know that, every year, ALC runs workshops for adults who don’t know how to ride a bike at all?  That’s right…ALC regularly recruits complete beginners to the ride.  On top of that, ALC has been a regular motivator for countless people to win their battles with obesity.  You might not think of yourself as the “athletic type” now, but when you put your bike to rest in Los Angeles, you’ll be singing a different tune.  People of all ages, shapes, sizes, and conditions finish ALC.  Beyond that, cycling is one of the easiest activities to get started in, and touring and distance cycling is one of the easiest aspects of cycling to do well.  Your body is built for long-distance stamina already, and cycling is a low-impact activity that boasts the best energy / mileage efficiency available.  You’re going to be making this trip the most energy-efficient way you can…on a bike!  Don’t be your own worst enemy.  Sign up and give it a shot.  Even if the ride is too hard, you’ll still be a hero to those who depend on the services your ride will fund.

I want to ride in ALC, but my bike isn’t very good.

One of the most unfortunate things about cycling is that it often becomes a sport of conspicuous consumption.  When people think of a cyclist, they think of some skinny and vaguely European guy, decked in his finest custom spandex suit and aerodynamic helmet, sitting astride a bike that costs more than a car, as he charges over some French hill chasing after a title nobody really cares about.  It comes as no shock, then, that those who want to look serious about cycling often buy expensive bikes and tons of spandex suits so that they can look serious as they ride on the local trail at a cruising pace.  If you’re worried about your bike, stop worrying.  Pretty much everything that makes a bike expensive becomes a concern only when you’re trying to go fast (i.e. when you’re racing).  ALC isn’t about going fast.  You can go quite slowly and still finish each day.  Just like all kinds of people finish the ride, all kinds of bikes do.  The person to finish just after me completed the entire ride on a single-speed bike.  That’s right…where I had the luxury of gears, he climbed the hills with nothing but experience, patience, and determination.  People finish the ride on recumbent bikes (which many of them ride due to orthopedic problems), which are often heavier than regular bikes.  I met a rider who was riding a folding bike and another who was on a 1978 Univega…who rode every day in a t-shirt and jeans.  I didn’t look, but I’m sure there were several inexpensive hybrid bikes from Target or Wal*Mart in the ride.  If your bike has brakes and doesn’t fall apart constantly, you can probably finish ALC.

No, really…I’ve thought about this and I just don’t want to commit to that level of training or fund-raising.

I can completely respect your position.  Having done it, I can say that the training and the fund-raising will take your time and attention.  Or perhaps you’ve talked this over with your doctor and you really can’t safely finish a ride like this.  There are many excellent reasons to not ride ALC.  There are more ways to participate, though.  All those riders need an army of supporters to keep them on the road.  You might want to consider signing up as a roadie.  As a roadie, you will have a significantly lower fund-raising target (approximately $500) and you won’t have to worry yourself with training for the ride.  You’ll be out there every day keeping the riders safe, on-course, fed, sheltered, healthy, and happy.  As a once-and-future rider of ALC, I can say this about the roadies– I’d have failed without them.  Without food and water available every 20 miles…without the medical tent helping with a saddle sore…without someone minding my tent and gear…without friendly faces everywhere I turned, I would have never made it.  Maybe, if you’re reading this, your friend just signed up for the ride and you want to get involved.  This is a great way to do it.  On top of that, you’re going to see some very scenic parts of California.  You’ll have plenty of time to relax, enjoy the trip, and take things in.  Roadies come back year after year because it’s essentially a fun and socially beneficial vacation.  If you sign up as a roadie, you’re my hero.

Okay, so I’ve signed up.  Now what do I do?

Good for you!  Go get a friend to do it with you.  No, really.  That’s not a joke.  You’re going to share a tent with someone, so why not make that someone a friend?  Having a friend with you is going to make things easier from both a logistical and an emotional point of view, and it’s the one thing I really wish I had done on my ride.  Outside of that, you’ve got two tasks ahead of you: fund-raising and training (presuming you’re a rider).  I’ll be tackling those in subsequent posts.  Stay tuned!