June 24, 2014
When Dusty Klass entered into her freshman year at the University of California at Santa Barbara, she got caught up in the excitement of college life and signed up for as many clubs and organizations as she could. Just like so many other overzealous college students before her, she pledged her support to many, but never really got past the initial sign-up stage.
However, there was one club meeting that she did manage to attend. At a Red Cross Club meeting, Dusty got a chance to listen to a spokesperson from AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC) speak about an upcoming ride. She was compelled to sign up for ALC, but admittedly for all the wrong reasons.
"I was 18 at the time so my reasons for taking part was really silly. I broke up with my boyfriend and AIDS was a really big cause for him, so this was my way of sticking it to him."
Regardless of the merit of her reasons for riding, Dusty started training for her first ALC. She had never biked before, so the first year was transformative for her for a number of reasons. One of the oldest riders on the cycle at the time, Burt Shaw, taught her how to ride her bike. He ran the team in Santa Barbara and trained Dusty with equal amounts of patience and diligence. She found herself deep in the world of cycling, learning about pants with pads in them and shammies for your seat.
Before she knew it, it was time to peddle out of the gates of the ALC opening ceremonies. As she began her ascent of yet another hill halfway into her first day, getting back at her ex-boyfriend became the furthest thing on her mind.
"I was climbing a hill and I was starting to get really grumpy. Someone passed me on the left. I looked up and it was a 'positive peddler.' Their little flag was waving at me and I realized that I have to finish this damn hill."
It finally started to sink in -- the weight of the ride and the gravity of the reasons why people dedicated so much time and energy to ALC. Dusty isn't exactly a particularly emotive or emotional girl. She talks in a frank, matter-of-fact tone and doesn't relish flowery sentiments or syrupy verses.
"HIV has just always been this stupid, shitty thing that has stupid shitty consequences and stigma to it, and I could never fathom how you could let people die and be scared of them instead of help them."
Dusty signed up for the next year's ride on day two of her first excursion and she has been riding ever since. She has a method; two years on, one year off. She says that this approach gives all of her friends and family a little relief from her incessant donation requests.
She has also made ALC quite the family affair. On her second ride, she convinced a friend, who is volunteering this year as an ALC "roadie," to join her. On her fourth year, she convinced her cousin, two aunts and her mother to don some spandex and make the 545-mile trek with her. That year, her father served as a roadie and has kept serving ever since.
As for her reasons, well, they have changed quite a bit. Once again, it's best to hear it straight from her.
"I have two legs, and they work. And there are a lot of people who don't have two legs, or that don't have two legs that work. That is why I ride. Who knows, some day I might not have two legs that work. So I do it now."
Now that is a reason to ride.
AIDS/LifeCycle is a fully supported, seven-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It's a life-changing ride -- not a race -- through some of California's most beautiful countryside. AIDS/LifeCycle is coproduced by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and is designed to advance their shared mission to reduce new HIV infections and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS. This year, over 3,000 cyclists and volunteer roadies raised just over $15 million.
Tyler Curry is the senior editor of HIV Equal Online. You can follow him on Twitter at @IAmTylerCurry.