By Glenn Gullicksen, May 22, 2014.
Local cyclists will ride for a cause during California's AIDS Life/Cycle
Those who have done California's AIDS Life/Cycle say the 545-mile coastal bike ride to raise funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS agencies is life-changing. Several cyclists from Arizona will be risking saddle sores and a few tears when the physical and emotional marathon from San Francisco to Los Angeles is conducted June 1-7 for the 13th year.
Here are the stories of a few of the local cyclists.
Daren Mitch rides to make a difference
The way Daren Mitch sees it, riding in Life/Cycle is an opportunity to make a difference for those living with HIV/AIDS.
"This means somebody will get their medicine, someone will get the help they need," Mitch said. "We all do our bit to help the community. This size platform is so much more impactful."
After hearing about the ride from friends for years, Mitch is riding in Life/Cycle for the first time.
"This year, I finally said I'm just going to do this," said Mitch, 47, who works as director of ticket operations at US Airways Center.
That meant Mitch had to go to work to prepare for the weeklong bike ride. "I haven't ridden a bike seriously for many years," he said. "It's a huge challenge."
He's been training with Christina Catellanos, of the five-member Slippery Pigs team, an Arizona group that has participated in Life/Cycle in past years.
Mitch said his training includes riding about 60 miles a week, including a long ride on the weekend.
As part of the training, he recently went to California to do a 70-mile practice ride that Mitch called "really eye-opening," covering terrain more difficult than the South Mountain trails he's done. "It was night and day compared to what we have in Phoenix," he said.
That caused Mitch to sign up for spin classes a couple of times a week. He's also been hitting the gym to do other cardio and weight training.
Mitch has been studying the Life/Cycle route and sees a three-mile uphill trek known to cyclists as "the quad buster" as one of the biggest challenges. "It's also one of the things that excites me the most," he said. "Some people have to walk up the mountain."
Fundraising is another hurdle for the bikers. "One of the things I was most concerned about was how I was going to raise the $3,000," Mitch said. "It ended up being one of the easiest things. I reached out to individuals and groups. The support was overwhelming."
A month before the event Mitch had exceeded the fundraising minimum by $2,000.
Mitch said much of the money goes to people don't have the means to pay for HIV treatment, which can cost up to $20,000 a year. "It means life or death for some people," he said.
Life/Cycle experience tests a couple's relationship
They say that the best test of a relationship is a road trip. For Tracy Pitts and Brennan Evans that trip was AIDS Life/Cycle two years ago.
The men are still together and plan to repeat the experience this year.
The Phoenix couple started dating about four years ago, but they had just moved in together when they did the Life/Cycle ride in 2012.
They'd be together 24/7, camping together for the first time, confined in the small tent they pitched after a day on the road.
But the men said the big test came on the worst day of weather during the ride, which goes rain or shine, as they struggled to complete more than 100 miles in a storm.
"It was a relationship tester," Evans remembered. "We joke now that if we can make it through that, we can make it through anything in our relationship."
Pitts had done the ride for the first time two years earlier after learning about the event from friends.
He wasn't the typical candidate for riding hundreds of miles since he had had not previously been a cyclist and was out of shape and smoking.
"Something drew me to it," said Pitts, 45, who works in a dermatologist's office.
"Everyone says it changes your life, but it really does. It literally changed my life. I quit smoking," he said. "There is so much love there. It's something bigger than yourself. After the first one I was hooked."
When Pitts met Evans, the men found they had a common interest in cycling, but Evans didn't know about Life/Cycle.
"He started telling me about this biking experience he had been on," said Evans, 46, who works at the spa at the Fairmount Scottsdale Princess. It appealed to him as a "bucket list" kind of experience. "But I was certainly not in shape to do that type of thing," he said.
To prepare for Life/Cycle this year, the men started training in September, a regimen that includes treks of 60 to 70 miles on Saturday mornings in Carefree and Fountain Hills. They've also trained in Sedona.
"You have to find time to get on the bike," Evans said. "It gives you a lot of time to think."
They also take spin classes a couple of times a week and try to eat better and limit the alcohol consumption.
To raise funds, the men relied on social media and tapped family and friends to help reach a goal of $5,000 each.
It's all worth it to help the cause. Pitts noted that since he came out in 1986 a lot of people he knew have succumbed to HIV/AIDS, including two former boyfriends.
"Anyone who lived through the 1980s and '90s has lost a lot of people," he said.
The message hits home during the ride, which includes a candlelight vigil the night before the final day on the beach in Santa Barbara.
"It's beautiful, solemn, emotional and awe-inspiring," Pitts said.
People who benefit from services funded by the ride volunteer during the event, telling their stories while they work food lines or staff rest stops. During dinner presentations, videos are shown featuring those living with HIV expressing gratitude to the riders.
"It's really infectious for a community of people to do something like this knowing you're benefiting such amazing agencies," Evans said.
"Anybody who wants to do it, be prepared to cry," Pitts advised. "I cried every day the first year."