Laurie Lewis



Laurie's California AIDS Ride 4 - Journal, part 1

Laurie riding on the Golden Gate Bridge As I write this, it's almost the middle of April, and I'm on the plane headed home from Boston - the end of the first long-distance music tour of the year. I find myself feeling incredibly excited about tomorrow, when I actually get to ride my bike again! And, also, I feel a little dread. What if I've forgotten again how to get my feet loose from my new clipless pedals? When I bought them, the guy in the bike store told me that 100% of people who get these things fall off their bikes between 1 and 5 times. On my way home, I dutifully stopped at an intersection and fell right over. It scraped my knee and my pride, but other than that I was fine. And I can't believe the increased pedaling efficiency and comfort (no more toes falling asleep from cramming them into the toe clips).

My bike training has been going really well: 100+ miles/week and a definite increase in speed, strength, and stamina (no, I still look pretty much the same, but I feel great!), until I started traveling again and working in the recording studio. Now I'm getting worried about the ride. Most of my training is in the east Bay hills, and the weather lately has been beautiful. Everything is green and growing. The poison oak is so powerful that I've gotten it on my arms just by riding past it, not even touching it! It's all worth it, though. Last week I found myself climbing up Wildcat Canyon just as the sun was going over the hill, and I rode almost into a pack of howling coyotes. Man, what a sound! I'd never have heard (or seen) that from a car!

Northern California is a cyclist's Paradise, and these days we're out in force. I feel a little guilty about my burgeoning machismo. Used to be, other riders passed me going up these hills. Now I most often pass others. I know it's not a fair race- they don't know they're in one - but I must admit it's a thrill to call on some of the reserves of energy I'm able to store these days and just smoke past 'em, even if it means I pay for it for awhile struggling to catch my breath.

As you may have guessed, most of my riding is solo, but I do have a small group of friends I train with when our schedules permit. We're called Team Tune, and include Mary Tilson of KPFA radio fame, winemaker/songwriter Steve Edmunds, and all-round musician Michael Stadler (one hell of a country singer).

The banjo players want to know what kind of equipment I ride. It's a '70's 10-speed road bike with sew-up tires, put together out of parts from a very fine bike that I got at the Goodwill for $25. The frame was bent, and besides that, it was built for a giant. I bought a nice old French frame with a paint job gone bad and had all the components switched over. Having only 10 speeds means I have to work harder and go faster up the hills than the folks with granny gears, and I have met some hills that I had to walk, but I love the way it handles- it's so responsive and light. I'm completely enamored of the strength and simplicity of the design. It's like a fine French bow. And the serious cyclists think it's really cool...

Thanks to all of you, I have met my fundraising goal, and so can just relax and ride. I really wish I could bring my bike on tour. I look at roads everywhere with different eyes- checking out the width of the shoulder and the heaviness of traffic. Tomorrow I'll ride my favorite East Bay loop, the next day maybe West Marin. After that, who knows? I could be any one of those helmeted, jerseyed, sun-glass-clad cyclists out there on the road, so make sure you wave.

Thank you all for your support. It truly touches me deeply.


Laurie Lewis

Laurie's California AIDS Ride 4 - Journal, part 2

It's now the end of Day 3 of the California AIDS Ride 4. I have so many impressions, I wish I'd been keeping a journal all along, but there you go. Riding out from Ft. Mason in San Francisco on Sunday morning was intense - not only emotionally, but just by the very quantity of people and bikes. There are around 2500 riders and the trip is more like 570 miles than the 525 that I'd anticipated. It's an amazingly well-run event, and so far for me, problem-free. But I'm jumping ahead. The Ride Out was so emotional. Before we even got on our bikes (called out by sections), we walked about 1/4 mile down a corridor lined on both sides with cheering people. And all day that first day there were people along the road, just clapping, handing out fruit, and saying thanks to us.

As I approached Santa Cruz, it struck me that each of the people along the road probably had some personal reason for being there: their lives had been touched in some way by the disease, maybe they'd lost a friend or loved one or were themselves battling it- and I started to cry (not the first time that day). The riding was the easy part, I'm relieved to say. My training more than prepared me for the hills on the ride, even with my little 12-speed (had it overhauled and new gears added last week). The road has many rules; Every time you pass another rider, you must call out, "On your left", to alert them. There are a lot of hot-dog cyclists- the faster they are, the ruder they often are, as a general rule. Why is that? One cyclist was cited for calling out,"Superior rider passing", and another snidely remarked "You're on my right, of course." Not exactly the right spirit for the ride. Then there are the people for whom this is truly an awesome challenge: an excellent one-legged rider, a one-armed rider, and the many "positive pedalers" (HIV positive) who are not only meeting the challenges of the ride but whose bodies are involved in another quality of struggle altogether.

Day 2 was 103 miles, the longest I've ever ridden, and absolutely beautiful. What a state this is! We went from Santa Cruz down to just east of Monterey and then cut in to the Salinas Valley, traversing the west side, mostly on little-used roads past fields of strawberries, lettuce, onions, artichokes, and all manner of produce.

We rode along Hwy. 1 for awhile, and I spent about 1 1/2 hours trying to figure out what to do with a terrified young dog who was bent on getting run over . She was definitely disoriented and lost, no tags or collar, and I pulled over to keep her from getting hit. She turned out to be so sweet, and while I sat with her waiting for the police or animal control or SPCA or whatever to pick her up she finally calmed down and actually even napped a bit. I thought I'd miss the whole ride and get stuck there,picked up by the SAG wagon- but we eventually worked it out. A store up the road said they'd keep her until the SPCA came, and when I got her up there (carried her- the only way she'd go), the woman at the store exclaimed that she (the dog) was just like a dog she'd lost a year ago. I think maybe she'll end up keeping her if they can't find her home. Anyway, I got back in line- the riders were strung out for hours along the route- and had a great ride. Don't get me wrong: I'm definitely fried by the end of the day, but it's just overall tiredness. All around me, bikes are breaking down, tires are going flat, knees are giving out., people are falling over (a woman broke her wrist, a man broke his collarbone), but my bike and I are just cruising along, not too fast, not too slow. In the afternoon we had a terrific tailwind that literally blew us down the road, but then we had to turn across it. It was rough going. I saw a woman get blown off the road and just *pow* fall off her bike in the dirt. Had to hunker way down and get some speed up to get through.

Today was uneventful except for more terrific scenery, from King City to Paso Robles. There are so many characters on this ride! The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are riding the whole way in outlandish nun-inspired outfits and full stage makeup ( these are big, strapping guys!). Lots of people have photos of loved ones that have died of AIDS on their bikes or their t-shirts. Everyone has a story of some sort.

I've set up the tent, showered, done my laundry, and now I'm starving. Got to go to dinner. Oh, yeah--food is edible to good, but I'm already sick of Gatorade and Power Bars.

Day 4: I've definitely relaxed into my own rhythm. Lots of solo time. I'm slower than the hot-rods and faster than the slow guys.

Last night, Paula Poundstone came to camp to entertain us. I can hardly remember anything she said, but I laughed 'til the tears ran down my face. Maybe I'm tired. Asleep by 10:00pm, up at 5:30am. The back of the official t-shirt says:

Ride. Eat. Sleep.
Ride. Eat. Sleep.
Ride. Eat. Sleep.
Ride. Eat. Sleep.
Ride. Eat. Sleep.
Again. Again.

And that's really about it by now. We had an incredible down-hill stretch of about 5 miles, from Paso Robles down to Hwy. 1 at the ocean. It was so long that my back started to stiffen up from inaction. Just missed a major rainstorm, only found the roads wet for a few miles. Otherwise, the weather has been about perfect: high clouds overhead, occasional blue skies peeking through, good cloud definition over the hills. I have no complaints.

Oh, yeah- I met my match. Had to walk 2/3 of the way up a hill (luckily a short one). It was just too steep for my limited choice of gear ratios. People stood at the top cheering the riders on. It was quite the scene and I felt a little like a failure, but I just didn't have it in me. I heard that one guy went up and down the hill eight times! Egad!

Day 5: a short day. Only 50 miles to go. My body was a bit cranky when I got up (at 5:15am) but after breakfast and stretching I was feeling pretty good. And when I got on my bike, my body actually sighed contentedly and got to work. What a beautiful day! We traveled tiny roads from Santa Maria over to Hwy. 154, and then it was a short trafficky stretch to our camp at Lake Cachuma. For some reason, a couple of hills today had big, impressive names: Heartbreak Hill and The Wall, but neither proved as difficult as what we'd gone over already. I took a 10-mile side-trip into Solvang, the Danish Disneyland, just because I could.

Day 6: Damn! We are all going right through Solvang! I'm regretting my extra 10 miles of Day 5. This day was just a drag. We hit US 101 in the morning and spent most of the day on it, with lots of traffic, big trucks rolling by, and dirt and dust and noise. It hardly mattered that the blue Pacific stretched away on our right. I'd rather be elsewhere. All my joy is replaced with a somewhat irritable determination to be done with it. 93 miles. Finally, we got to Ventura. Exhausted. Set up the tent, hauled the gear, showered (my, a lot of dirt swirling down the drain!), ate, slept. The high point of the day was maybe our heroes' welcome in the little town of Carpinteria. The city council members and the mayor were out in force making speeches, the townspeople cheered us and handed out free hot dogs with all the fixins.

Day 7 was only 65.1 miles, but crowded with bunched-up cyclists along the sometimes non-existant shoulder of the Pacific Coast Highway. Bad riding conditions. Cold, overcast, noisy, and people are getting grouchy- except for the L.A. riders, who are so excited to be coming home. As planned, I met up with Team Tune at the last pit stop so that we could ride in together. Riding into the holding area (before the closing ceremony) was really emotional. The street was lined with screaming, cheering spectators and early-arrival cyclists. Then the bad road conditions just melted away. We were all so proud of ourselves and each other.

Now it's June 9. The Ride ended on the 7th, we all wept at the closing ceremony, gathered our gear, shipped our bikes home, and scattered. Would I do it again? I certainly know I could, which is a big deal, but I think not. I'll support another rider and then take a biking vacation riding around the Salinas Valley. Today I pick up my bike in San Francisco, and maybe I'll take a ride in the hills.

Oh, yes! Here are the statistics for the Ride. We rode a grand total of 583 miles (I went 593, but who's counting?) and raised 9.5 million dollars, making it the biggest AIDS ride yet. Out of that, 60% will actually go to the centers, the rest being used for ride support and administration and fund-raising costs. Not too bad a ratio, but not great, I must say. But then there's the unknown, unknowable impact that the event had on the lives of the riders and the communities through which we rode, the dispelling of fear and the promotion of cycling for sport, fun, health, and transportation, and bonds forged between people sharing triumph and adversity. It's GOT to be a good thing! As of this writing, your donations have topped $6,000. Way to go!

Thank you so much for your encouragement and support. Now let's get out there and ride!


Laurie Lewis