Lately, cycling has taken a prominent place in my life; it obsesses my thoughts and it floats through my dreams. I continually cruise peoples’ bikes comparing brands and components; I obsessively monitor my tire pressure; free moments catch me surfing the internet planning road rides; and sometimes in sleep I am climbing the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees and see myself flying downhill, joyously singing, alive, transcendent. Cycling is my primary transportation to work in Santa Cruz and I love everything about it: my breath hanging in the cold morning air; the golden sunrise dancing on the waves; the smell of sardines in the harbor; the cormorants drying their wings at the mouth of the San Lorenzo; the sight of the Big Dipper at the Boardwalk; the red-shouldered hawk’s cry piercing the still meadow; and the steady rhythm of my heart. I’ve even come to humor the stiffness in my cranky knees. But lately, cycling has also become poignant. Riding has become a ritual of honor, an epic poem of remembrance, my song of mourning.
Every year the AIDS Lifecycle, the 545-mile weeklong bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles begins with a ceremony featuring the poignant entry of the riderless bike. The entourage escorting the bike includes self-identified HIV positive cyclists calling themselves the Positive Peddlers; the ritual honors those who have passed and those who are so ill they cannot ride. In the 1990s, I worked with a wonderful man and archivist named Willie Walker. A nurse on the SF General Hospital AIDS Ward, Walker, when he realized gay history was becoming a victim of the AIDS epidemic, founded the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Historical Society of San Francisco, along with Alan Berube, Estelle Freedman, and several others. Walker was also the project archivist for the UC San Francisco (UCSF) Library AIDS History Project. During the 1990s, Walker was my colleague and friend when we collaborated at GLBT and UCSF. In June 2002, I did my first AIDS cycling event, the European AIDS Vaccine ride. This month, I registered to make this epic journey again. In June 2014, I will ride in the AIDS Lifecycle to raise money to help persons living with AIDS and HIV and to honor friends I have lost. We lost the generous, loving, and dedicated Walker several years ago, not to AIDS, but to other natural causes. But on the road to Los Angeles, I will honor and remember Walker and how he fought AIDS by keeping history alive.
A ghost bike is a bicycle painted white, serving as a roadside memorial when a cyclist has been injured or killed by a motorist. It is hoped that the memorial will remind drivers to slow down, share the road, and fully grasp the potential destructive capacity of the vehicles they drive. In early November, we lost Josh Alper while he was cycling north of Santa Cruz on Highway One. Josh was beloved by so many; he brought us music, humor and such sweetness. He was also so earnest about helping students and faculty at the UCSC Library. When shopping for a new bike, I purchased my new wheels at Santa Cruz’s Spokesman on Josh’s recommendation. Josh was a gearhead about bikes and Spokesman is a bike shop with a tip-top crew of gearheads; they, like Josh, know their stuff. From talking to Josh, it was clear he loved riding, building and maintaining his bike. He was also devoted to the history of the sport. Waiting in line for coffee, he often spoke to me about his deep respect for Greg LeMond, three-time winner of the Tour de France and the only American to win this epic contest. He urged me to read Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de France; he loaned me his copy so I could understand the now mythologized rivalry between teammates LeMond and Hinault. In honor of Josh, the Spokesman bike crew assembled the ghost bike, one of many memorials to this young man. You are greatly missed Josh, and always will be. In early 2014, I will ride with other cyclists to honor, remember and mourn Josh as we escort his ghost bike to its final resting place.
Homer’s poetic narrative of the Trojan War, The Iliad ensures immortality for Achilles and his fellow warriors. Inscribing their glory in battle, their deeds live on, honored in perpetuity. In Ancient Greece, the recitation of the epic poem was an act of remembrance, honoring the glory of warriors. In 21st century California, with the act of cycling, I will honor, remember, and mourn the glory of lost comrades.