AIDS Lifecycle: A Utopian Rolling Village on Wheels
By, Dan Maxey
Eight years ago, I moved across the country—from Arlington to Arizona—to start a new chapter in my life. A decision to make a career change from working in politics and government affairs to higher education required a return to college for graduate school and my sights were set on schools out West. Moving thousands of miles away meant pulling up the roots I had carefully put down in Washington, DC and Richmond; it meant leaving communities that nurtured my coming of age as a young adult and gay man. I rarely let on how scared I was to leave. Yet, the community I found in AIDS LifeCycle has elevated my expectations about what a community can be, and it has allowed me to make a real difference for a cause that has improved the quality of life of many thousands while greatly enriching my own.
AIDS LifeCycle is a seven-day cycling event from San Francisco to Los Angeles supporting the HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services of the Los Angeles LGBT Center and San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Riders and roadies each raise thousands of dollars to set out on a 545 mile route—roughly the distance from Richmond, Virginia to Jacksonville, Florida as the crow flies. The benefitting organizations provide critical services to thousands of men and women living with HIV and AIDS, have had a major role in prevention and building awareness, and contribute to the national and international fight against the disease through their leadership, involvement in clinical trials, and other initiatives.
I signed up to participate before I had a clue that I was moving. I got involved, as many do, at the insistence of a friend and because it offered me a physical challenge that also supported a good cause. I didn’t understand what I was getting myself into. It just turned out that my first ride would coincide with the move, calling me out to the coast just days after arriving at my new home in Phoenix. AIDS LifeCycle fortuitously became the community I craved when I left the East coast.
During that first week on the ride, I experienced a genuine sense of connection in the midst of 3,000 relative strangers in a foreign, albeit beautiful place. It began in conversation with another rider on the flight from LAX, our common bond signaled in the helmets we carried aboard. It continued in a sea of spandex at the ride orientation and opening ceremonies as we remembered friends lost and celebrated the start to our journey. It came in the encouragement of children offering up high-fives along the route, a helping hand to fix a flat tire, a good cry with a woman on the side of the road honoring the life and loss of her brother, and the riders, roadies, and beneficiaries who shared their own stories over meals. It came in the volunteer doctors, nurses, and drivers who cared for me on a trip to the Emergency Room and in the days that followed. In every moment of each day, we lived, loved, and lifted one another up.
I never felt like I was leaving that community when I returned to Phoenix—it was always there, a part of me. I recruited others to join the cause; we grew closer as we trained together. When I moved from Phoenix to Los Angeles, there was a ride community ready to welcome me—cyclists and ride staff literally met my U-Haul truck to help me unpack. Riders opened their homes to me and tens of others for Thanksgiving dinners and other occasions. We trained together. I volunteered my time on the ride’s steering committee. I joined a team, Lady and the Tramps, and formed bonds with a bunch of men and women I’ve come to love like family. When I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, my first and most fulfilling friendships were found in the local teams who invited me to train with them. The community never quits giving—we live, we love, we lift one another up without fail.
Maybe this sounds like any community—any other group with a common cause. Yet, amid a larger LGBT community so often characterized by its subsets—its “tribes”—I have found myself in relationships with a more diverse group of people than before in every sense of the word: men and women of every shape and size, race and ethnicity, gay and straight, lesbian and trans*, twinks, bears, positive and negative, old and young. I have lived in a community that transcends the boundaries of any one week or place. Out on the road we call what we experience the “Love Bubble.” We are a utopian, roving village on wheels that offers an unlimited supply of love and support. It’s in that bubble that we feel safe exposing our vulnerabilities as we help one another to shoulder the individual and collective burdens that life brings our way. It’s far too simple to think of AIDS LifeCycle as simply an event. It’s a model; it’s how we all wish the world could be.
As I put in thousands of miles training to ride 545 miles in June and raise money to fund the fight against HIV and AIDS, I am looking forward to reconnecting and recharging my spirit. Months of rigorous training and the physical and emotional demands of the experience are always worth the reward. But, most importantly, I’m proud to give back—to honor the men and women who we have lost and those living so courageously with this disease today.
Dan Maxey grew up in Prince George, Virginia. He graduated from The College of William and Mary and spent six years living and working in the metro DC area. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is participating in his seventh AIDS LifeCycle.
Note to Chris:
Include a link to Dan's fundraising page: http://www.tofighthiv.org/goto/maxey