|Crossing the finish line after more than 500 miles. What an exhilarating feeling!|
Two Saturday afternoons ago, I was riding down Pacific Coast Highway through some of the most beautiful and affluent coastal cities in Southern California, pushing through the final miles of the 11th AIDS LifeCycle toward the Veteran’s Center in Los Angeles. During the previous six days, I had been pedaling from before sun-up to late in the afternoon, pressing the envelope of my own physical endurance and riding an emotional roller coaster ranging from elation to inexplicable feelings of empathy and grief for people I didn’t know. What kind of event could have drawn such an experience that crashes all borders and invades the spiritual? What had I gotten myself into, indeed!
The AIDS LifeCycle is an event that raises money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center’s Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic. Both beneficiaries focus on providing state of the art medical care as well as basic needs for those afflicted with HIV and AIDS. Some of their research and treatment protocols push well beyond California and are adopted across the country and worldwide. Bypassing the statistics and the emotional manipulation one might expect from a fundraiser, I was put face-to-face with this thing called HIV. There was a face to the disease that transcended race, gender, sexual orientation, creed, and social status. There were people who told their stories, simply and authentically and that eliminated any need for trying to play on one’s heart strings. This was real and it proved beyond any doubt that what we were doing in raising money and awareness was saving lives. And it was instilling a sense of profound gratitude that made it progressively easier over the course of the ride, to push past any discomfort.
I did say easier, but by no means easy. Determination and attitude will only get you so far, albeit quite some distance. It still took a lot of personal dedication to the physical training to be able to ride a bicycle over 500 miles during the course of a week and I can personally attest to feeling not just a little saddle sore to accompany some aching knees and shoulders, numb hands, and tired-as-hell legs and feet! I can also attest to the extreme fatigue from pushing oneself this hard. But I will tell you that not since earning my naval aviator wings, have I ever felt so incredibly and completely delighted and genuinely satisfied in achieving something. And while there’s certainly a sense of accomplishment, there’s a selflessness that transcends achievement and pushes the ego aside to take center stage and joins each and every participant to a fellowship of sorts. It’s the kind of mysterious relationship that evokes tears for no apparent reason and makes even the most reserved person gush with enthusiasm. There may be some merit in the comment of someone very close to me, “It was a religious experience for you.” Bear in mind, I am not a religious person.