545 Miles: From San Francisco to Los Angeles by Bike!
Have you ever thought of taking a scenic road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles? I spent seven days doing so by bicycle – yes, you read that right! And I wasn’t alone.
As part of the AIDS Lifecycle charity ride I was joined by 2,500 other cyclists and over 600 “Roadie” volunteer workers and staff from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and LA Gay and Lesbian Center. The annual ride is the fourth largest fundraising program in the US, and the # 1 AIDS fundraiser in the world! This was my 8th ride.
When I first signed up, it was for the challenge and the adventure. Then I met people (including my now wife), heard stories of the havoc HIV/AIDS has reeked on the lives of friends and the challenges still faced today – 35 years after the CDC first changed the name from “gay cancer” to AIDS.
We have come a long way, but there is still so much work to be done!
And that is why I continue to ride…there is more work to be done.
For one week, we are very visible – it’s hard to miss 2,500 cyclists as we ride along city streets, freeways and agricultural farming roads, through big towns and small towns.
In every one, and often in the strangest most remote places, suddenly there appears a cheerleader – a single person or family thanking us for riding and doing what we’re doing, sharing stories of losing loved ones, or the challenges they face because of HIV/AIDS.
Every year, the very small town of Bradley hosts a BBQ fundraiser for us during the 3rd day of the ride for lunch. This year we were able to donate $57,000 to their school – funding scholarships, educational, vocational, musical and sporting activities for the small town of 120 under privileged citizens.
During the 2016 ride, I stopped and spoke with the elderly residents I noticed cheering us as we rode by their homes – 83 year old Gayle, 94 year old spitfire Gladys, and 74 year old Glenn. Each waving and smiling and hugging and chatting with any rider who took the time to stop.
Other riders did the same with the children who lined streets to pass out red vines and give high-fives as we rode by.
And when we roll into Paso Robles each year, we are given hand-written letters from local elementary school students which serve to encourage us and make us smile. We call this roaming community, this week of non-judgmental acceptance of everyone, the “Love Bubble.”
Almost every day of the ride has a theme, and each year, I make a point to work one of my Cisco jerseys into the themes. This year I chose to wear an older jersey during Day 2: Safety. I chose the jersey for its orange color, another theme of the day, but given Cisco’s recent commitment to “safety and security,” I thought it would be even more fitting.
As a 17 year veteran working in Product Operations, I always enjoy meeting co-workers on this crazy ride, be they riders or Roadies, Cisco always has a presence.
I wasn’t certain how many miles I would actually be able to finish this year. In 2014, I beat breast cancer and endured double mastectomy surgeries but still don’t feel quite 100% this year. There wasn’t much time to time to train, either. However, I set realistic expectations, and blew them out of the water!
Our route takes us over 25,000 feet of climbing, and while I may have stopped along the way to rest, I’m proud to say that I did make it up every hill! I finished all but about 75miles of this year’s route, which included 25+ miles of 115 degree road temps, and my first rainy ride down the southern California coast into LA.
This ride is challenging – it takes everything out of you emotionally and physically, and then refills you with love and encouragement each night in camp (yes, we camp out every night!) and every morning at ride-out. With every difficult moment, there is someone beside you cheering you on, and on a good day, you become the cheerleader for someone else having a hard time with that hill or that mile ahead.
This is the very definition of the “Love Bubble.”
For me, our Cisco Family is akin to the Love Bubble. Nearly half of my donations came from co-workers – friends who I truly think of as family. And the “Time 2 Give” option Cisco has given to employees this year also meant that I could save my PTO for my honeymoon later this year.
One of the best parts of the AIDS Lifecycle Love Bubble (as well as the Cisco “love bubble”), is that we are given the opportunity to do something great, for someone else, just because we can…and we get so much more in return.
Looking to join a company that rides together? We’re hiring!