For Rafael Gonzalez, the AIDS/LifeCycle “Ride to end AIDS” was a challenge whose time had come. Another chance for the 36-year-old to prove he could do something seemingly impossible for an honorable and worthy cause.
Last month, our Education and Testing Program Manager got his chance to do something big. He joined over 3,000 cyclists and Roadies in AIDS/LifeCycle 2016, a seven-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise funds for San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
“By the time I realized I could do it, I felt too old,” says Rafael, who we call Ralph. “Sometimes I feel like I’m running out of time to do a lot of the things I want to do. But the ride … I slowly came to realize I could do that.” And Ralph and his team, the Cycledelics, did the Ride in a big way. Ralph raised $3,397 towards the team total of $19,294.
D.A.P. client Scott Tambling also rode in AIDS/LifeCycle this year. Back in 1998 and 1999, D.A.P. Events & Retail Marketing Manager Brett Klein was a Roadie, a volunteer helper for cyclists, his first year and a cyclist the next. Back then, the tour was called the California AIDS Ride.
“There were days when I was on the bike for 12 hours,” Ralph recalls. “I wanted to stop, curl up in a ball, and wait for the medics to come pick me up. Then, as I talked myself through the challenges in life and the route for the day, I thought how often I ask my staff to work long hours testing, educating, setting up for events, then taking everything down. And I thought, if they can do that, I can ride a bike.”
The route skirts the Pacific coast, with Riders averaging about 80 miles a day over varying terrain that includes strawberry fields, artichoke patches, steep hills, dense fog, and California Highway 1 South. Sometimes riders are so close to the ocean that they can see dolphins frolicking. Sometimes, they share the highway with cars going 70 and 80 miles an hour. There are Roadies and an entire circus of food, water, first aid and the like who follow cyclists from town to town.
Still, the only reward for the three-day, uphill ride called the Quad Buster, is finally getting to ride downhill, Ralph says. The ascent on day-one is 5,571 feet.
“After that, we rode nine miles downhill,” Ralph says. “It’s fast. Some people, who were in better shape than me, walked their bikes downhill because they were afraid of the speed.”
For Ralph, the Ride was more than a challenge … it’s also personal because he was diagnosed HIV positive in 2004. Since then, he drifted away from his training as a dental assistant and into peer education and support, first at the Inland AIDS Project in San Bernardino, before moving to D.A.P. in 2008.
Even though D.A.P. is not a beneficiary of the fundraising AIDS/LifeCycle, the ride did remind Ralph of our mission and reaffirmed his commitment to it.
“I learned it’s never too late to set goals and see them though. And there’s so much support along the way. That’s what we do at D.A.P., support clients and patients on their journey. If there’s ever a time when I’m not proud of that, I’ll leave and let someone with a greater passion do it. But I still have it. Doing the ride just made me think of the commitment I have to this community.”