I didn't really have much of an idea of what I was getting into in some respects. I knew that there was going to be a lot of hard work; that was a given. I knew that we would be setting up and taking down tents every day and packing our gear into trucks. I knew that my main responsibility was getting from one campsite to the next, preferably without falling/crashing/"bonking" (basically running out of steam). But I had no way of knowing how the 1600 riders and 400 "roadies" would form an instant community. We were of many ages. There was one girl I remember who missed her high school graduation because she was riding. I remember one man who was in his 70's. We were from all over the United States and beyond. Ethnic diversity! Gay and straight. Very healthy folks as well as riders who were HIV positive (they rode with orange flags on their bikes -- the "Positive Pedalers"). Many experienced cyclists, and many who rode their first century (100 miles in one day) on the third day of the ride. As we cycled, we talked with folks we'd never met prior to that encounter on the road. "On your left" (the shout letting riders know that someone was passing them) may be the only human voice we'd hear for a while. But, if someone had a flat or other mechanical malfunction, there would immediately be a group who'd stop and help get that rider going again. It was an entire society created within and for the week. We were all committed to the same overall cause, as well as the immediate goal(s): completing the ride, both for the day, and the week. We suspended many "normal" rules of interaction, rules of separation. Pretty much NOTHING was more important than all of us reaching Los Angeles and celebrating our common achievement. We built that alternate society that week. Certainly, since it was AIDS LIfeCycle 4, there had been several prior events, and for many riders/roadies, the 2005 ride wasn't their first. They had begun the building of that society and I had witnessed it in the late 90's while on vacation in Santa Barbara. I knew then that I wanted to be part of that "world"; in 2005 it happened.
We can build an alternative world to that in which we live. I work with students who are committed to world where religious differences are real, but that are not divisive. They embody that belief and attract others to their events. I would like to think that many of us are tired, tired, tired, of all of the discord and ready to move forward. Certainly these students are. They are building; may we all.
PS: For more information about the AIDS LifeCycle, surf on over to: http://www.aidslifecycle.org.