I Just Biked 545 Miles. Here’s Why…

I’m safely back home after seven days on the road, bicycling from San Francisco to Los Angeles as part of the 2015 AIDS/LifeCycle ride.

It was a profoundly positive experience for a number of reasons: for the funds raised for the SF AIDS Foundation and LA LGBT Center; for the new friends I made along the way; for the opportunity to see my adopted home of California with fresh eyes; and for the community of friends, family and colleagues who came together to support me and ending HIV/AIDS by making a gift.

Over 7 days, I joined 2,500 others from across the world to bicycle 545 miles, climb over 26,000 feet, and burn tens of thousands of calories in the process. Rising each day around 4:30AM, I’d pack up my tent, gulp down some oatmeal, a banana, a muffin, chocolate milk, and coffee, haul all of my gear to a truck, get my bike ready and roll out by 6:30AM. Riding was my favorite part. From my bicycle seat, I not only had a great view, but also hours each day to do nothing but pedal and think (with plenty of stops for more food thrown in).

Photo by Chris Stewart

Here are some of things I observed and considered:

1.) California is probably the most beautiful state in the country, and that’s never been clearer to me than it was from my bike. From redwoods to rocky beaches, from mountain peaks to rolling pastures, its landscape is as varied as it is stunning. But the land is parched, with extreme drought now in its fourth year. Biking through the Salinas Valley (Steinbeck Country and some of the most productive farmland on earth), fields of lettuce, broccoli, artichokes and strawberries drank up our disappearing water through irrigation pipes while next to them fallow fields resembled Dorothea Lange’s photos of the Dust Bowl. To add insult to injury, the land is also sinking as we deplete the underground aquifers to supplement a lack of snow melt and rain.

2.) I also saw first-hand how we continue to harm the environment, ourselves and other living things through our over-reliance on petroleum. Biking along the Santa Barbara coast, we passed the clean-up efforts in and around Refugio Beach following a pipeline that ruptured and spilled thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean. For miles, the breeze off the Pacific smelled like a gas station. Crews from the EPA and other agencies could be seen in white suits scrubbing the rocks and beaches clean below Highway 101. It served as a very visceral reminder to me that riding a bicycle is one simple thing we can do every day to lessen our dependence on this finite resource.

3.) Perhaps most importantly, the ride was a great example of civil society in action. People coming together to solve big problems works. It’s why I participated in this ride, and it’s why I’m excited to show up to work every day at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. HIV can be treated and eliminated, carbon emissions can be reduced, and community can be built in the process if we choose to place the good of the whole above that of the individual. I met so many wonderful, committed individuals last week, and they renewed my optimism in our ability to solve difficult problems by working together.

AIDS/LifeCycle was a ton of fun, and not nearly as physically taxing as I had worried it would be. I’m hooked and already planning my next ride.

Photo by Chris Stewart

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