Biking For a Cure
I caught up with Dylan Vade a few days after the event between bouts of studying for the California bar exam. I was surprised to hear he wasn’t sore as hell from biking for a week; he attributed his good condition after the event to his training, which regularly includes large doses of biking, running, and hiking. “It was really, really fun,” Dylan said of cycling in the AIDS/Lifecycle. “The first day was 118 miles, more than I’ve ever ridden in my life and more than I ever hope to ride again.”
Both of the guys are experienced bikers: Dylan has been road biking for four years, but Kevin found the transition from mountain biking to road biking daunting. When he moved to San Francisco and began looking for biking trails, Dylan told him about Different Spokes, a Bay area lesbian and gay bicycling club. The two completed the Three Bears Loop, a sixty-mile, hilly course, Kev on a mountain bike. “I thought this is great, I have a cycling buddy,” Kev said. “But even if we start at the same time, I never see him. I don’t know if anyone ever sees him. He’s just boom: gone.”
Mountain Biking v. Road Biking
Mountain bikes are built for harsh terrain, Kevin explained to me, for riding through mud and guck, over logs, and taking big drops: in short, high-impact riding. Mountain bikes are geared for steep inclines, whereas most road bikes are geared more for speed and long distances, not rough, technical climbing. Road bike wheels are bigger, with lighter, less flexible frames, built for faster climbing. “They’re just faster, whereas mountain bikes… you can beat up on a mountain bike, jump curbs, but if you did that on a road bike you’d ruin your tires.” Most of Kevin’s riding had been on trails with an average “longer ride” being eight to ten miles. Long rides on the road are closer to the 50-60 mile range.
“I finished the ride. I was completely exhausted. I was by far the slowest person,” Kev said of his first road ride. “I was at least 15 minutes behind everyone at every stopping point,” Kev said. “That day could have been the beginning and end of my interest in road cycling, but the people were so supportive…. No one made me feel like a jackass, even though I really was, showing up with no helmet or gear, on one of the more challenging rides in the area. Eveyrone made me feel I was really accomplishing something, because I did it on a mountain bike. They even put me in the newsletter.”
Undeterred by his first ride, and inspired by Dylan’s expertise in road cycling (Dylan admitted to Kev after the Three Bears Loop that he’d done the ride on a mountain bike once, and had found it “ten times harder” than doing it on a road bike), Kev went shopping. It’s hard to find used road bikes in a small size (Kevin is between 5’4″ and 5’5″), and new ones aren’t cheap, starting around $700, compared with new mountain bikes at around $300. Another transman friend of Kevin’s offered to sell him his top of the line Cannondale racing bike. “When Dylan started talking about doing the [AIDS/Lifecycle] ride, I had the bike and was ready to go.”
AIDS Ride Controversy
Both guys heard about the AIDS/Lifecycle primarily through the controversy around the San Francisco AIDS Foundation pulling out of a contract with Pallotta Teamworks to put on the event. Also, both guys are queer-identified, and feel a personal tie to the LGBT community. “As corny as it sounds, I want this [the AIDS crisis] to be in the past,” Dylan said of his reasons for participating in the AIDS/Lifecycle.
Both registered in February and began the training program provided by AIDS/Lifecycle. The event sponsors organized weekend-long training rides, with some cyclists camping out the night between rides. Between finishing law school and raising the $2,500 required of each rider, Dylan was crunched for time; he rode on training days, but didn’t have time to camp. Nonetheless, the training provided a setting for the beginning of community-building, which would culminate in the seven-day event. Dylan said: “We’d start to see the same people and get to know them on the training rides.”
Disclosing Trans Status
I asked Dylan whether the people training with them knew they were trans, and he said that some knew. “I had an encounter with a doctor. By the second day I had the wrong seat, and I went to get some ointment. She said she had to look at it. I asked if I could just have the ointment.” He ended up outing himself the doctor. Although she seemed “really cool,” as he was leaving she asked, “By the way, are you MTF or FTM?” (As you can see from the photos, Dylan is clearly a very cute trannyboy.)
As Kev explained it, a transman’s dick can stick out past the labia majora and so not be protected by them, but because of the way it’s tethered by the labia minora, is stuck between him and the seat, “so when you’re riding you’re sitting on your dick.”
“Getting a seat with a cutout would be recommended for transmen,” he noted. “And butt butter.” Butt butter? “It’s a personal lubricant for cyclists,” he explained. It helps reduce chafing from having cycling shorts rub against you, and you rubbing against the saddle. You can find “butt butter,” as cyclists call it, in any cycling shop: two “butt butters” available are Chamois Butter and Butt Balm.
Around camp at pit stops Dylan, who had chest surgery a year and a half ago, walked around without a shirt. “People would come up and be like, ‘Oh, you’re so tough,’ or ‘Did you have heart surgery?’ One asked, ‘Was that a failed breast implant?’ That hit a little too close. I came close to saying no, I’m trans, but at pit stops I usually didn’t because I didn’t want it to turn into a huge processing session. Part of me wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to educate but the other part just wanted to ride.”
Kev and Dylan teamed up with Elise, who originally planned to ride but decided to become an event roadie instead, to fundraise for the AIDS/Lifecycle. Not having corporate sponsors or workplace matching funds, the guys had to get creative. Kev called the threesome “Team RentBoy,” because of their fundraising event theme: “selling our asses for the cause.” Shawna Virago, a transwoman rock star, performed, and the event included strippers, chocolate pudding wrestling, a houseboy auction, and sexy performance art. In addition to the profits from the event, both canvassed friends and family for donations.
First Two Days
“Going into the ride, I didn’t think I was ready but I was as ready as I was going to be,” Kev said of his training and readiness for the grueling 600 mile ride. “The LifeCycle course is not easy by any means. They changed the route and the changes made it much more difficult.” (Redge Norton, Media Relations Associate of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation explained in an email that the route was dictated by the campgrounds they secured and that despite rumors to the contrary, AIDS/LifeCycle was never excluded from using parks, rest stops, campgrounds, roads, etc. by Pallotta Team Works or by any of their subcontractors.) The first day, originally a 90-mile ride, became a 120-mile ride with a ten mile climb near the 30-mile mark, the first two miles of which were, acording to Kev, “insanely steep.”
“People were very nice to each other,” Dylan said of the comraderie that suffused the group of riders. “There was a sense of mission and seriousness but also a fun aspect. A lot of people had their helmets decorated, or their whole bodies decorated.” Kev, a graphic artist, says “I have a very intimate relationship with my bikes.” Every bike he has owned, he has stripped and re-painted to make it his own. In addition to stripping his new Cannondale down to the aluminum, disassembling it, and repainting it, he re-lettered the Cannondale logo to read “Chippendale” in the same style, part of Kev’s trademark humor.
Dylan praised the many people who didn’t ride, but made the event possible. “The crew was amazing— the roadies. Pit stops had themes. People would dress up… one pit stop had a ‘just got out of bed’ theme. At the top of any big hill there’d be a cheerleader.”
Day Two was 80-90 miles of mostly flat terrain. “At the end of each day was tents and dinner and falling asleep and not being able to bend your legs anymore,” Dylan said of the routine. Tents and gear people unloaded and reloaded huge trucks with 700 people’s bags and tents. Sometimes roadies would even help the tired cyclists set up their tents. “The sports med people were really good. I don’t know anyone who didn’t visit them.”
Physical Fitness and Transition
Dylan and Kevin are both vigorous athletes. Dylan is an avid bicyclist, runner, and hiker. Kevin initially had dreams of becoming a pro tennis instructor, until a knee injury and the fiercely competitive world of collegiate tennis ended his aspirations. When he began transition, he got into weight lifting “purely for aesthetic considerations. I wasn’t necessarily concerned with fitness. Testosterone wasn’t doing enough to change the shape of my body.” He felt a year into his transition that his body, which he described as hourglass-shaped before transition, just wasn’t changing enough. He also went through what he calls a “really bad bloating phase,” in which he gained 3-4 inches on his waist. A friend suggested that getting into a gym could make a dramatic change in his body shape. “A lot of guys felt like they were coming into their true selves, with all these changes. For me it was this awful, terrifying, out of control feeling…. My body was out of whack…. I was freaked out that it would stay that way forever. I was concerned having a realistically male body wasn’t a possibility for me.” He found that weight lifting gave him back the control over his body that transition had ironically taken from him. Initially, he focused on his upper body, then began to incorporate lower body strength training to make him a stronger climber while road cycling on hills.
The third day, according to Dylan, was really hard, with the last 20 miles being mostly uphill. “Day three, which was heinous— was brilliant, actually. I think they should keep it the same,” Kev said. He described it as “a trademark day,” filled with colorfully-named hills like “the Quad Buster,” “the Evil Twins,” and “Big Fucking Hill.” It was on this day, after the second rest stop, that Kev’s old knee injury from his tennis-playing days began to really hurt. Out of the 670 cyclists on the ride, 400 didn’t finish the day. “I rode a lot of it in pain,” Kev said. “Even Dylan got in late to camp, and if Dylan comes in late, you know it’s a hard day.”
“I thought, if I can make Day Four, I’ll make my goal [to ride every mile of the AIDS/Lifecycle] because the rest is downhill. No more ‘century days,'” Kev said, referring to the fact that from Day Four on, there would be no more days with 100 or more miles to ride. He confidently set out the morning of Day Four. Because his right knee was so weak, he compensated with his left leg, causing his left Achilles tendon to give out under the strain. At the fifty-mile mark, nearly in tears from the pain, Kev realized he absolutely could not finish the day. He rode on the SAG (Support and Gear) bus to the campsite at the end of the day’s route. In the medical tent, he was told he had PFS— patella femoral syndrome. When I asked what PFS was, Kev told me, “All i know is it causes really hideous sensations in my knee. I’m still limping on both legs.” [Ordinarily, the patella slides up and down between a couple of grooves in the femur (the thighbone). PFS is when the patella gets pushed against the grooves in the femur, causing inflammation and roughening of the normally smooth underside of the patella.] After the ride, Kevin’s Achilles tendon is still strained and his knee is still sore.
At the medical tent, Kevin spent a lot of time in physical therapy, got taped up again, and “did a lot of muscle stripping.” Muscle stripping, he explained, is “like deep tissue massage. It hurts like hell while they’re doing it. You can hear shouts and screams coming from the med tent and you know what’s going on, but when it’s over it feels so good.” He spent an hour in the morning and an hour at night at the med tent every day after his injury. “I rode every mile after Day Four. They didn’t put a medical hold on me, so I thought I wouldn’t have damage from continuing the Ride. They strongly suggested I not ride Day Five— even Dylan tried to convince me not to ride. I said, ‘If you were in my shoes, what would you do?’ and he saw my point of view.”
The Last Day of the Ride
“I was relieved that I could stop putting my body through pain, but also sad,” Kev said of his emotions at the end of AIDS/LifeCycle. “It was the best I’d felt in a really long time. I really surprised myself in terms of what I could do on this ride.” Kev was also surprised that it was not his fitness level, but an old injury, that kept him from riding the entire course. He described the ride as an exercise in simplicity: “seven days where you do nothing but eat and sleep and ride… a phenomenal, incredible journey, spiritual on a multitude of levels,” and the feeling of all of that coming to an end and being replaced with “sitting in a corner waiting for someone to take you to an airport. Jarring, jolting, and really sad.”
Dylan, who finished the ride without injuries, described himself as feeling “tired, but good” at the end of the event. Both are already making plans for the next AIDS/LifeCycle.
“I’m thinking of crewing,” Dylan said, “doing tent and gear next year. They seemed to have a lot of fun and be a fun group of people.” Kev will certainly ride again next year: “Cycling is fast becoming my next obsession.”