I’m Brett Klein. I am participating in the AIDS/LifeCycle 2022—and I’m inviting you to join our “love bubble.”

This June, it will be 23 years since I first took part in the world’s largest single-event HIV/AIDS fundraiser—a seven-day, 545-mile bike ride that benefits the HIV/AIDS-related services of the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. While I’ve supported, donated to and trained for the AIDS/LifeCycle for many years, this year’s ride will be very special, as I’ll be joined by my local ALC team, the Desert Roadrunners, which includes more than 50 riders and roadies. Our fundraising goal is $200,000.

I initially participated in the ride in 1999. At the time, I thought I had only months to live. It was my sixth anniversary of being HIV-positive. Medicines at the time were limited and toxic, and I was greatly struggling with my health, so I wanted to challenge myself to fight for those living and aging with HIV/AIDS one last time. To my thankful surprise, I’m still here.

Since 1993, when the ride began as the California AIDS Ride, participants have raised more than $220 million and completed more than 42,000 journeys on bikes from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 and 2021 in-person rides to be canceled, but AIDS/LifeCycle is set to make its return this year from June 5 to 11.

I’ve been posting on social media and sending email updates to friends and acquaintances, and people have been donating—including some people I don’t even know who’ve read or heard my story.

Ride director Tracy Evans recently announced that more than $9 million has been raised so far for the 2022 ride. “People are just so eager and happy to be back with the community, and when we opened registration in August, they were all in, and they just got to it, which is why we are where we are with fundraising,” she said. “While we’ve come so far in the last 40 years in our mission to end AIDS, we’re not there yet, and it’s going to take a lot more to get there.”

While fundraising is off to a blistering start, teams still need volunteers—known as roadies—to work behind the scenes of the 545-mile bike ride.

“If you’re the kind of person who thrives from providing service to others, and working toward a collective goal, then there is nothing better than this,” said Victor Yepello. He has been involved since 2009 as a rider, a roadie and recently as a bike-maintenance tech. “We’ve got people who are going out there marking the roads, people setting up the camp each day, a complete medical team, route teams, food teams—it’s everything you would need to create a moving city.”

It takes approximately 650 volunteers to successfully move the event down the coast each day, with overnight stops in Santa Cruz, King City, Paso Robles, Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Ventura. The volunteers are divided into 32 roadie teams with jobs that vary in skill and physicality.

It is a tough week, but one filled with love, laughter and solidarity. The energy is amazing; describing it is hard to put into words, but I’ll try: Being able to be part of this ride, which raises millions of dollars, is unparalleled. Being part of what we call the “love bubble” is one of the best highs I’ve ever experienced in my life. Thinking about all the memories I’ve built up over 23 years gives me chills.

Our Desert Roadrunners team is captained by veteran rider and training ride leader Tim Wood, who is celebrating his 15th year as a participant.

“I am truly humbled and honored to be part of a group of cyclists nationwide and around the world using a bicycle to make a difference. Desert Roadrunners, Positive Pedalers and all the other teams that have included me in their family—THANK YOU!” Wood writes on his AIDS/LifeCycle Page. “… The stigma of HIV remains very prevalent, and many in the HIV community are still reluctant to talk about it. Those living and aging with HIV/AIDS struggle daily in maintaining their health and getting reasonably priced health services. New infections are still alarmingly present in communities all over the U.S. Those becoming HIV+ are constantly saying, ‘We didn’t know; we didn’t realize; we don’t care; no one told us; we thought it was a manageable disease!’”

Some 1.2 million people live with HIV and AIDS in the United States—and one in seven of those people do not know they live with the disease.

For many riders and roadies, the AIDS/LifeCycle is the most physically challenging week of year—but it is also the most emotional and fulfilling. The average rider will train on the road and hills for six to nine months, riding thousands of miles.

I started training in September—after a 10-month recovery from a nasty bike crash. Thankfully, I’m now riding 60 to 75 miles each weekend, plus more miles during the week. It can be grueling; it’s a huge time-suck; and days are filled with mental and physical challenges. But I love it, because do it with my Desert Roadrunners team, a group of like-minded and selfless individuals representing our own desert “love bubble.”

Brett Klein, AIDS/LifeCycle rider No. 1367, can be reached at brettdklein@gmail.com.To learn more about the Desert Roadrunners, read their stories or donate, visit the Desert Roadrunners page.

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