When I was asked to write about why I participate in the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS I had to stop and think.
Don’t get me wrong, I now know why I ride. It just took 10 years to realize it.
In 1999 my best friend was diagnosed with HIV. The news was heartbreaking. The thought of losing him to HIV/AIDS was unimaginable.
And I couldn’t stand idle any longer. Shortly after his diagnosis, I heard about the Tanqueray Texas AIDS Ride 2, and I found my call to action.
A week or so later, my 10-years-old-plus bike was dusted off and I was on my first solo ride. Feeling shaky and unsure, I started asking myself the questions we all ask:
Why did I decide on this event? How in the world will I finish the ride? What makes me think I will make a difference?
They were all valid questions, and there was one simple answer for them all: Because I have to, because I can. Failure was never an option!
Skip forward seven months, 1,200 miles of training, and countless hours of fundraising to find me headed down to Houston. I knew without a doubt I was “prepared” for this. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Sure I had trained enough, fundraised enough, packed enough — but I found out quickly “enough” that doesn’t matter. I was on a four-day therapy session. I loved the chance to laugh, to cry and to hear the countless stories of others.
Now jump forward another year as I wait in the holding area for the California AIDS Ride: San Francisco to Los Angeles through south central LA — Are you kidding me?
Was I prepared for this seven-day adventure? Not in the least.
I thought my reasons for riding had changed. My friend was healthy, so it was less about him and more about the accomplishment.
I found pleasure riding for hours, speaking little, listening to the hum of the tires across the ground. Pits and camp were exciting — finding my group of friends, listening to how they were doing, eavesdropping as others talked about their day of heaven or hell (depending on your perspective). It was my heaven!
Eight days after it started, I was flying home to Dallas with the heaviest of hearts. Something was missing. But what?
Ok, I had enough of the biking, fundraising, training and all that went into preparing for an AIDS ride.
For many years I would break out the bike, get some miles behind me and drift into my memories about the AIDS Ride. I always found incredible memories to draw on: Remember when one night’s desert was a cold chocolate éclair with its divine taste? Or when you stopped with a friend who blew a tire, giving the “thumbs up” sign to dozens of riders asking, “Are you ok?”
Jump with me now to 2008 — and my introduction to Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS. I was fortunate enough to be at opening ceremonies and closing ceremonies. As the moto crew roared their bikes to life my heart jumped — I knew “that feeling.”
The next day as I waited for the riders to come home, I listened to crew members and families talk about their reasons for being there. As the riders pulled into view the tears flowed. I knew I would ride in 2009!
In 2009, I made new friends, bought a new bike and cherished (though I did my share of complaining about) the 1,400 miles I rode from May through the end of the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS.
That year my reasons were more selfish. I wanted to get into better shape, be outdoors more, do something different from the past few years. I took a chance and self-identified as HIV-positive and joined the Positive Pedalers Team.
For 2010, I joined the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS as a council member and co-captain of the Positive Pedalers Team. As I reflected on the past AIDS Rides, I found again my true reasons to ride: I know I will make a difference, and I want to hear your stories.
If you find me on the ride, or training, do me the honor of telling me your story about why you ride. Now, Saddle UP!
Michael Mack is co-captain of the Positive Pedalers team for the 2010 Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS. To donate to Mack or any LSR rider, or to register as a rider or crew, go online to LoneStarRide.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.