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Aids Ride

     What is it about this event that stirs people like me, a soon-to-be-72-year-old, to ride?

     The answer can be seen by watching an AIDs ride. Look on seatbags, and CamelBaks, and rear racks. Everywhere one looks in the long line of riders, will be bikes bearing a photo or just a name of a loved one who'd died of AIDS, some with a date. Many people in the pictures look young, much too young. Some riders wear shirts bearing the names of friends & family members struck down by the disease. Some shirts might have dozens of names.

     A 40 year old financial analyst from Oakland, did the entire ride towing an empty child's bike in honor of his 7-year-old nephew Dillon, who was born HIV-positive. (AIDS is the life-threatening stage of HIV.)

     The AIDS Rides honor the fallen, but they are also exultations of life. They're more party than funeral procession. Costumes abound. The famed Chicken Lady, who's niether fowl nor female, sports a feathery outfit and repeatedly rides up and down the same hill to cheer on struggling riders. Bikes are festooned with streamers, ribbons and flags. Helmets sprout Barbie dolls, foam lightning bolts, Wile E. Coyote dolls and a mini House of Congress.

     "When we started, AIDS was not socially acceptable and we had a terrible time getting sponsors," recalled Derek Liecty of Different Spokes, which started the all-volunteer event in '85 and ran it until current organizations took over in '94. "But we raised the seed money for a lot of organizations that were then able to get over the hump and start hunting for big money. What the current ride has done is bring in the straight community. This kind of meshing of the gay and straight communities helps all of us in the fight against AIDS. And the wonderful thing is, the bicycle is at the core of it."

     Aboard Huffy's or Merlins, the riders keep going. And they make it, all the way to L.A. Perhaps the pain of a three-mile hill is easier to take after you've watched your friend or lover or son, down to 80 pounds and covered in lesions, die in a hospital bed. Or maybe an eight-hour day in the saddle isn't so bad when you pass a group of kids from a Christian school - an institution you might expect to turn a cold shoulder to this event - who stand along the roadside, cheering and saying, "Thank you!" Whatever the motivation, the riders reach the finish and an emotional closing ceremony in Los Angeles.

How many rides have you done where you cry when it's over?

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