The word came out of my mouth without me even realizing it. I immediately blushed and looked to the ground as though I were a dirty little girl. But, It’s not like The Bears at Otter Pop Water Stop were unfamiliar with being verbally molested. They just weren’t expecting it from someone like me. Stereotypes aside, when it comes to bear culture I’m neither an “otter,” nor a “cub.” In fact, I’m a bit of a Goldilocks. But immediately after my unexpected, primal urge to bark (sort of) at a bunch of hairy men in tutus, I was, well… thrown to the wolves.
Typical energy on Day 2 of AIDS/LifeCycle 2013, the ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in an effort to fight HIV: Work hard and play hard. As the cyclists embarked on their 108-mile day of pedaling from Santa Cruz to King City they were presented with a plethora of exotic stops along the way. The spectrum swayed from watching migrant workers pick strawberries, to enjoying fried artichoke treats, to skinny dipping in the river, to sucking bear-drag-popsicles and, of course, a grand finale of mediocre gymnastics routines with snarky commentators at Rest Stop 4.
“Hell yeah I went skinny dipping” said Kieth Stryker, a 2nd year Poz Pedaler from Chicago. “I saw some beautiful women.” It was today’s big events that really helped us make it such a long way. “But it was the mood at Otter Pop that brought my energy up, like, ten million notches,” says Matt Gonzales, of LA. “They flirt and touch everyone. It’s just good sexy fun.” Matt uses the LA Gay & Lesbian Center Services for HIV treatment. “I originally went in to get tested for Chlamydia, but that’s when I learned I was HIV positive. And it’s The Center that saved my life.”
And it was Otter Pop that changed mine.
Symbiosis: a close, and often long-term, interaction between two or more biological species.
The town of Bradley, California sits along a dusty railway track. On a normal day the population is 120. But on June 4th, 2013, a different kind of freight train arrives. Suddenly the population skyrockets to roughly 2,300. Because that’s when the participants of AIDS LifeCycle, the bike ride to end AIDS passes through from San Francisco on their way to Los Angeles. And ALC has never felt more at home.
“Go riders! Go riders! Go riders!” Cheer a line of small children on the side of the street. A parade of sorts, it’s Bradley’s biggest event of the year. The townspeople grill burgers, baked goods and other home-cooked wonderfulness, and sell them to hungry bikers who flood through. I tried talking to one of the kids selling burgers but Bradley resident Johnna McGuire was like “Dude, these kids gott’a work, do you see the line?” I looked up and truth be told, there was a queue of spandex down the block. “Go talk to my husband, he’s the man flipping burgers in the orange hat.” Sure enough, her husband, and also the Bradley School Principal, was sweating away. “This event raises about $15,000 for our school,” he says “It pays for their field trips and after school programs.” Kind of like the Pilot Fish that swim beneath the mouth of the Whale Shark, the tiny town of Bradley has formed a symbiotic partnership. It is because ALC raises money for HIV services for the The LA Gay & Lesbian Center and San Francisco AIDS Foundation, that the town or Bradley is able to ensure its children have a healthy education.
Today marks 20 Million miles collectively ridden by AIDS/LifeCycle riders in 20 years.
My name is Clark Harding and I'm reporting live from the ride. Find out more about AIDS LifeCycle here. Read about his first day on the ride here.