Biking Can Save Your Life

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Jason Sikkila's fundraising page for the upcoming AIDS/LifeCycle event.

On June 3, Jason Sikkila will mount his bicycle in San Francisco and start peddling south. Over the course of a week, he'll bike through Santa Cruz, Paso Robles, Ventura and a handful of other towns you know primarily as “those places out by the beach,” before ending up in Los Angeles, 545 miles away from where he started, on June 9. He'll be just one of the more than 2,000 people expected to make the trek this year in a now decade-long effort to raise funds for fighting—and awareness about—HIV/AIDS. Sikkila isn't joining the pack just because he needs to or because he wants to—though those are reasons too, he says—but because he is able to.

The first time that he participated in AIDS/LifeCycle, back in 2010, Sikkila recently wrote in a moving short personal essay for The Advocate's website (“What It Really Means to Be a Positive Peddler,” May 11), he didn't believe the kick-off words of Lorri L. Jean, then as now the CEO of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, the world's largest LGBT organization with thousands of volunteers, and a frequent member of “most powerful gay and lesbian people in the country” lists. “AIDS/LifeCycle is a life-changing event,” she said. “You will not complete this ride and leave here the same person you are today.”

“You have to be kidding me” is basically what Sikkila thought as he sat/stood there, ready to kick off. “How can a simple bike ride change your life?” He had been on many HIV/AIDS rides before, from the East Coast to the West, and never experienced anything like what Jean was promising. Less than a full week later, he was a convert.

He's still not sure how it happened. “By the end of day 7, I still hadn't fully understood the impact the ride would leave on me or just how much it would continue to change my life,” Sikkila wrote earlier this week. “But even now I see my life changing as a result.”

There are some clues in his piece for The Advocate. One suspects Sikkila's feelings evolved over a week-long immersion is a complicated blend of some hard-to-deconstruct baptismal stew. San Francisco, the kick-off point for the event, which is co-produced by the legendary San Francisco AIDS Foundation, is, of course, considered the birthplace of the gay rights movement here in the United States. With more than 500 support crew volunteers cheering on the participants and helping them to make it past the 500-mile mark, a difficult milestone for many cyclists, let alone amateur bikers, the support can be overwhelming. And, along the way, Sikkila, it seems, was finally able to meet some people he could relate to.

We're not just talking about people with HIV/AIDS who happen to own a two-wheeler. “There are many others with unfathomably tragic consequences and conclusions,” Sikkila, who was once addicted to IV drugs and lived on the streets, writes of the AIDS/LifeCycle participants. “With my own IV drug addiction, cancer, homelessness, and a reactive HIV test in 2007, my life today in theory should look much different.” We may not all have experienced the same series of hardships as Sikkila, our lives not all traveled along the same path, but it seems he realized at the 2010 Aids/LifeCycle event that we have all struggled. And struggle.

You can either give up and play victim to what Sikkila describes as “poor me” moments or you can grab life by the handlebars. “That bike,” Sikkila writes—that bike that he blew all of his student loan money on—”proved that yes, I can—insert whatever I decided I can do after my mind initially said don't even try.”

Next month, for the third time in as many years, Sikkila will bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money to combat the virus he says he has survived. But that's not the only reason he's biking. He's doing it because he can. He's doing it to celebrate the life he still has, the life he has finally learned to appreciate. If that isn't living bravely, I don't know what is.

—Nicholas Jackson

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