Cal road warriors: A poignant AIDS milestone day (and a dry ride!)

Reporting on Day 1 of the 2011 AIDS LifeCycle — Sunday’s leg from San Francisco to Santa Cruz — is alumna Caitlin Lempres Brostrom, ’90, architecture. Brostrom was among close to 2,400 riders who left San Francisco’s Cow Palace early Sunday morning on the seven-day benefit ride to L.A. Factoids of interest: More than $13 million (a new record) raised this year for HIV/AIDS services. And with only one ambulance call, Sunday was also the ride’s “safest day on record,” according to Cal Team co-captain Devin Wicks.

AIDS Lifecycle 2011 logoSANTA CRUZ — At 9:06 p.m., I’m sitting on a semi-inflated air mattress… which is as good as it will get. I can hear snoring, already, from the tents around me. We have a tarp under our tent (was that a mistake? I have heard now that it’s supposed to be inside!), another clipped over our tent fly and another wrapped around our bags, which are sitting outside. It’s raining.  Supposed to storm tonight. It’ll be a muddy mess in the morning! But miraculously, the entire Day 1 ride was dry, so we give thanks for that.

It was a very poignant day today. Thirty years ago this day — on June 5, 1981 — the Centers for Disease Control made the official announcement that there was a new disease sweeping the country, AIDS. Today was especially somber as everyone reflected on the crisis of this disease that affects our entire world.

So what was Day 1 like, otherwise?

I rose at 4 a.m. with my husband, Nathan. He drove me to the Cow Palace, leaving our six sleeping children behind (their age range makes this permissible: 6 to nearly 17). A hot cup of coffee and a big bowl of oats with blackberries and raspberries and chopped nuts was my breakfast. Perfect.

Rest stop workers in superhero drag.

Superheroes save the day at a Day 1 rest stop

We met with others of the Bear team at the luggage trucks (which will carry our bags each day from campsite to campsite).

Nathan joined us (there were many non-riding loved ones present) at the opening ceremonies. It’s been four years since I took this ride in 2007. That was my first time. Then, the unknown overwhelmed me and it was hard to absorb the emotional side of it all. This time, though, I know what’s ahead and so I was overcome by the wave that we all seemed to feel as witnessed by the tears on our cheeks. The enormity of the loss so far, and the losses still to come. The ceremony included a quiet parade of a few “Positive Peddlers” (who have AIDS and ride this ride) and an escort leading a riderless bike.

We leave the ceremony, gather our bikes and exit en masse, 2,461 (or so) strong. A police escort gets us out of the city. By the time we hit the Great Highway, we are a long stream of single-file riders.

Each rest stop has a theme, already they start to blur together. But at each one the jokes, silly costumes, laughter, good snacks and big hugs help you quickly recover and get back on the road.

I rode today pretty quickly, faster than I expected. I made it to camp in Santa Cruz (about 85 miles) by 3 p.m.; there were probably about 2,000 more riders still on the road still. Not sure if I’ll be so quick tomorrow! The alarm is set for 4 a.m.; the hope is to be riding by 6:30. We’ll see!

We learned today that this year’s ride has raised $13 million dollars — the most ever — on the ride’s tenth anniversary. Of that total, the Cal Team’s 29 riders have raised about $95,000. Go Bears!

Thinking back over the day and looking forward to the next six, I am so thankful to my family and friends who supported me in my wish to be here. It is the greatest gift to be able to help save a life, and that is the wish of our team. As I overheard tonight: We are here to ride this thing out until we find a cure.