My name is Clark Harding and I’ll be blogging live from the road (and stalking Jake Deckard, obviously).
11:05 a.m., Sunday June 2, 2013. Day One
I don’t know how he found me amidst all the bikers in the stadium. AIDS/LifeCycle was about to start, and Lorri Jean, CEO of the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, was giving us her famous send-off. But Jake Deckard, my porn star fantasy, locked his eyes on me. His muscles bulged out of his spandex, his neck tattoo informing me he’s a “daddy,” in case I hadn’t noticed. As he walked toward me, cyclists billowed in his wake. Jake grabbed me in his arms and pulled me close. I puckered my lips, surrendering to his dominance…and that’s when my alarm went off and I woke up. My ALC honeymoon is over, and now it is time to werq.
“The road is now officially open!” blared Lorri over the loud speaker at 6:30 a.m. today at Cow Palace, home of the ALC opening ceremonies. In that instant, approximately 2,203 bikers (sadly none of them Jake) trampled me to get to their bikes and were cheered by onlookers as they zoomed south on Day One of the seven-day ride. The path was a little clustered at first, but soon the “law of dispersal” evened riders to single file. Classically the 550 “roadies,” were out in full form (and costume) with snacks, water, bubbles, wigs…the usual tools used to support the riders as the road calmed to a quieter pace.
“On average, people in our group have done this for about three years,” Derek McCombs tells me, at Rest Stop 2. He’s the founder of The Mustache Riders, a fabulous training group out of San Francisco that sports, well, mustaches (including two women who wear falsies).
“About fifty percent of the riders are returning from previous years,” says Jim Key, the LAGLC’s Chief Public Affairs Officer. “But I have to say, it’s an older crowd, we don’t see too many riders in their early twenties and below,” Derek observes. But according to the Center the most “at risk” for contracting HIV are young, gay men of color between the ages of 18 to 24.
“The younger generation doesn’t have that same fear of HIV that we do because people aren’t dying. I honestly think they fear getting herpes more,” says another Mustache Rider. “It’s like kids are infecting each other because they don’t even know they have it.”
A quandary to ponder on the road: if youth are the most vulnerable, how do we engage them to protect themselves?
Photos: Chris Stewart/Georg Lester
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