Cal road warriors: As AIDS turns 30, Bears saddle up

Twenty-eight members of Berkeley’s campus community have been in training to ride as the Cal Team in the 2011 AIDS LifeCycle — a week-long San Francisco-to-Los Angeles bicycling event to benefit HIV/AIDS services and promote HIV/AIDS awareness. Members of the group will report back daily from the road. We begin their first-hand coverage with an overview from Cal Team co-captain Christine Shaff, communications manager for the campus’s Facilities Services unit (and a longtime AIDS ride veteran). Other members of the team will write throughout the week — beginning with a report on Sunday’s San Francisco-to-Santa Cruz leg. Check back Monday for that post on the NewsCenter.

BERKELEY — Every time I tell someone new that I’m part of a bike ride from San Francisco to LA, they ask one of two questions: “How far is that?” or “How long does it take?”

The answers are approximately 550 miles and seven days. The event is AIDS LifeCycle and we do it to raise money for HIV/AIDS services and to build awareness that the disease is still with us. This is a big year for AIDS LifeCycle (ALC): it’s the tenth anniversary ride and the 30th anniversary of the first announcement, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, of deaths from what would come to be known as AIDS.

Cal Team members fix a flat on a training ride.

Cal Team members fix a flat on a training ride.

The Cal Team participating in this year’s ride is our biggest to date, with 28 fabulous members. That includes three brand-new graduates (one with a PhD!), 11 staff, three alumni, five graduate students, five undergraduates and one dad of an undergrad. As we get ready to roll, we are proud to announce that our team has raised more than $95,000! That’s a feat we could not have accomplished without the support of our families, friends, campus community and team sponsors. Thanks to you all.

Saturday, June 4 we head to the San Francisco Cow Palace to drop off our bikes and take care of final registration. Sunday morning we ride. Opening ceremonies are at 6 a.m., getting us on the road early for an almost-100-mile day.

The following are introductions to some of our Cal Team members. As they stretch and carbo-load in anticipation of Sunday’s ride-out, they share why they ride, how their training has gone and what they look forward to as they ride south through California next week with 3,000+ new friends. Our team will be sending stories to the NewsCenter each of the seven days, sharing highlights and adventures of the day’s ride with the campus community.

Chathu Abeyrathna, undergraduate
I still remember my first bike ride — the beautiful view of lakes and mountains from Inspiration Point, a scenic spot in the Berkeley hills. That’s when I knew that I loved biking, despite the excruciating pain on my first long uphill. Later, my first (and hopefully last) bike accident revealed a truth about humanity. I got enormous amounts of help from others, from the first call to the ambulance all the way through my recovery process. Some even offered to help pay my hospital bills!

Humankind would no longer exist if every being were for him/herself alone. We need others to help us when difficult times are upon us, and should do the same for others. For me, the AIDS LifeCycle is about helping the mankind (while doing what I love to do). That’s why I ride.

Lindsay Bergstrom, ’11, B.A. in French and linguistics
I am riding in ALC 10 because my experience in ALC 8 was so wonderful that I had to come back for more! After graduating from Cal, I wanted to do something to celebrate. What better way than to spend a week with incredible people who are all working towards the same goal: to get to LA in one piece… and help better the lives of others in the process? For me, the biggest challenge about the preparation has definitely been the fundraising; $3,000 is a big number! Of course the physical training is a big deal, but you’d be surprised at how much your body can handle! I am looking forward the most to riding into Ventura (my hometown) on Day 6. The last time I rode, in ALC8, we got rained out, so I was bussed into town. I can’t wait!!

Ellie Bozmarova, about to be a sophomore, majoring in English
Ellie BozmarovWhy am I participating in ALC10? Because I want to support a cause that involves such a unique stigma and want to show my friends and family that I’m willing to fight to address it. I also know that it’ll be life-changing. Those reasons — and the California scenery we’ll witness on the ride — meant I couldn’t not sign up. I’m especially looking forward to meeting a lot of fantastic riders and roadies — every one of them with a story!

The attached picture is from my first training ride with cycling shoes and clip-less pedals. I fell five times and got all kinds of scrapes. No guarantee I won’t fall 10 more times on the ride, but whatever!

Hillary Bush, undergraduate
I am riding simply because I can, and to contribute to a movement that impacts a world outside of my own reality as a college student. I get to cross something off my bucket list, and for a wonderful cause at that. Challenges I faced? None beyond buying a bike and learning technique. Luckily, I know some generous people with big hearts who supported my fundraising and REI trips. Now that the ride is about to start, I look forward to meeting some fantastic people, seeing my dad wear a red dress (he’s riding in ALC10 with me!). Not to mention the infamous rest-stop performances!

Margaret Chester, staff, Information Services & Technology
AIDS Life/Cycle is something that I’ve wanted to do for many years. The challenge of the ride, and the opportunity to support my community, appeals to me. Over the past year and a half, I’ve gotten into the best physical shape that I’ve been in in years — in part by participating in the Workfit and Workfit-U programs. So when the call came out for a Cal AIDS Life/Cycle team, I knew it was my year to ride. I have spent hours on my bike in preparation for the ride. I think I’m ready, but remain a bit unsure (guess I’ll know for sure when I get to Los Angeles!). I have already made great friends on ALC training rides. I look forward to those friendships growing and to the start of many new friends as we share a common goal.

Kit Donovan, recent alum, political economy, third-time ALC rider
The first year I rode in ALC, I was tempted to sign up for the ride for the physical challenge. I return for my third year because of the incredible community of people who come together to raise money for the San Francisco Aids Foundation and the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center. I am continually impressed, humbled and inspired by the heart, dedication and cooperation of such a large group of people for such a great cause. It’s always both an honor and a joy riding with my fellow participants.

Anita Liboff, staff, Recreational Sports Facility
Anita LiboffI work as a personal trainer at the RSF. This will be my fourth time riding to L.A. with AIDS/LifeCycle, an event that is truly life changing and life affirming! To get to Los Angeles from San Francisco on just your bicycle feels amazing — and riding with all kinds of people (2,500 riders!), some of whom are HIV+, is very inspiring.  Right now my biggest challenge is trying to pack a week’s worth of gear, including my camping stuff, into one suitcase.  Also, I’m trying to decide how seriously to take the weather forecast — thunderstorms! — predicted for our first day of riding. To be part of such a caring community, to be supported by all of the people who donated money to such a great cause, and to have the physical health to undertake such a big ride — I feel truly grateful, and very excited!

Hari Phatak, Ph.D. candidate, Haas School of Business
Why am I riding: I hope that by riding I’m helping to maintain awareness of HIV/AIDS. Medicine has made incredible strides towards making this a chronic disease — so much so that you can forget that not everybody enjoys access to treatment, and that prevention is as important as ever. More than this, I ride because HIV affects people I care about. While it’s not in my power to set things right for them, participating in AIDS/Lifecycle is something I can do, albeit at the margin, to show my support.

The most challenging thing about preparation: Consecutive training rides have never been my strong suit. Going to school during the week made it very, very difficult to commit to riding on Saturday and Sunday. I’m thankful for the friends I trained with for keeping up the social pressure to ride. I also owe a lot to the Recreational Sports Facility. Sure, spin class is no substitute for training outdoors, but at least it kept me moving during the week.

What am I looking forward to (this is a long list):
1. Spending time with friends I’ve made over the last couple of years. I spent ALC 9 as a roadie with one of the advance teams. We set up camps for nights 2, 4 and 6 and spent a lot of quality time together. These folks have been sources of constant support for me as I’ve trained and fundraised for ALC 10. I look forward to seeing them all again this weekend.
2. Spending some time alone. Despite the huge number of riders, I remember riding for hours a day isolating in a really healthy way. Also, the fact that there aren’t really charging facilities on the route forces me to turn off my smartphone for a little while.
3. Getting to have a second dinner.

Harry Stark, director of Facilities & Engineering, QB3 Institute, Stanley Hall
Harry StarkFour years ago, while locking my bike outside the RSF, I ran into Christine Shaff, who had just returned from a week managing bike parking at ALC 6. Even though I was aware of the event (and its predecessor, California AIDS Ride), her enthusiasm piqued my interest. Online, I read personal stories of participants, and having just purchased a road bike, I was motivated to register for the next year’s event, in June 2008.

I ride because I lost many friends to AIDS in the 1980s and ’90s. I ride because I have friends who are HIV+ and who continue live with the disease. I ride and raise money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation to support its prevention efforts, so that others might not become infected. I ride because I have grown attached to the wonderful community of people who participate in AIDS LifeCycle. I ride because I am fortunate to be a part of it. I ride because I can make a difference.

Training this year was going amazingly well, until the end of January. Braving the rain, fog and cold weather that seemed incessant since early February has been challenging. Many weekend training rides were canceled due to rain; those that weren’t canceled usually saw rain or drizzle hours into the ride. The real push to get hours on the saddle and miles on my bike came in April and May, when I tried to ride both Saturdays and Sundays, in addition to my daily commute. Two weeks ago, I exceeded my goal of 200 miles in one week.

It has been challenging balancing training, work, family and other obligations. But the payoff is the feeling I get when I spend a week with 3,000 people bringing the best of who they are to the ride, be they riders, roadies or bystanders along the road cheering us on. I especially look forward to the brownies served — on Day 4 at the midway point — by three mothers who lost their sons to the AIDS epidemic years ago.