For those of you who don't know David Allison, he’s a high flyer, literally as he works for one of the top airlines, he's a social media personality, making people laugh on both Facebook and Twitter, and he's also a fundraiser. Every other year he takes part in a fundraising cycle ride over in the States to raise both awareness and much needed funds for AIDS research and support and has fun and lycra chaffing to prove it. As he prepares for the upcoming 2015 event, I managed to catch up with him to find out more about the event, and his fundraising to date:
By Chris Jones | 29th October 2014
How and when did you become involved?
A friend of mine put a link on Facebook for sponsorship back in 2010. I donated to his fundraising and followed it up with a message to wish him luck. Following that conversation he asked me “why don’t you do it too?”. I gave it some serious thought for a few days and thought ‘why not?!’ I had to change around some annual leave at work and once that was in place I simply signed up. Now I find myself training for my 3rd AIDS LifeCycle. My aim is to do it every other year due to the logistics and time off required. So far I’ve done 2011, 2013 and now training for 2015. Next year’s ride will be even more special as I’ve now been certified as a Training Ride Leader by ALC.
From all the charities out there, why this one?
Being a gay man (not that I am restricting those affected by HIV to one group or another) I have friends that are either directly affected by HIV or involved in Fundraising for HIV charities. No matter who it affects, it is a worth while cause. We have to make a difference in the world however we can. There are many charities, many fundraising efforts and many heroes. We each have to do our bit to help. We should all strive to be the best version of ourselves and share the love.
How do you prepare for this event?
My first year I didn’t even own a bike! Once I had all the necessary equipment I just began cycling as much as I could fit into my week, my month, my year. Someone once told me “do a LOT of hill training” and oh how right they were. Some of these hills (I’m tempted to say “mountains") even have names such as ’The Evil Twins’ and ‘Quadbuster’… I rest my case.
Because of my job and the fact I don’t always have access to a bike I utilise whatever I can to train. This usually meant lots of training in hotel gyms. I do recall spending 8 hours on a hotel gym bike once; I had a bag of food and bottles of water/sports drinks and I just got peddling whilst everyone else was sunning themselves by the pool. It was so un-glam, but by the end I had buns of steel so firm you could break a diamond on them.
I also own a ‘Turbo Trainer’ which allows me to attach my own bike to a prop which has a roller on the back, essentially allowing me to train on my own bike at home. The great thing about this is you can train indoors when the weather isn’t so great, watch TV and get your backside accustomed to your saddle, which trust me, NEEDS to happen.
Talk us through some of the things that happen along the road - and keep it clean, or not!
Being a fully supported ride there are scheduled rest stops and water stops every so many miles. Each and every stop has a theme, Roadies dress up, food and water stands are decorated and there is just a general theme of fun and hilarity. You’ll even find interesting things to read in the portaloos! At certain points of the ride there will be entertainment; again provided by the roadies. It’s simple touches like this that can keep your spirits elevated.
One of the most motivating things apart from roadies and fellow cyclists have to be random strangers cheering you on at any given time; the toot of a horn, the ring of a bell or even a whole school of children coming out to cheer you on are real energisers.
My favourite day has to be ‘Red Dress day’ for a number of reasons; firstly because we get to dress up and secondly because it’s the shortest day at only 42 miles. This day was originally called ‘Dress Red day” but you know what happens when you get a bunch of gay guys and gals together! The purpose of this day was to emulate a huge AIDS ribbon cycling the route.
Camping can bring about some interesting stories I’m sure, personally I’m too exhausted to think about anything other than having a shower, eating and getting to bed. You’ve not lived until you’ve had a shower in a truck specifically designed for the purpose!
Each night in camp after you’ve joined the line for food (which is served to you by more awesome roadies) there are speeches, videos and pictures. Each night you are reminded of the day you’ve just completed, whether that be pictures taken by riders or video interviews of the people you are helping with your fundraising or sometimes even a musical guest or two. There are guaranteed to be laughs, tears and some heartwarming stories. Then it’s time for a hot chocolate and to hit the sack. I usually get up at 5am each morning and am on the road by about 6am ready to spend around 10 hours in the saddle. Trust me when I say that I make up for all these early nights and good behaviour when I get to LA as it’s Pride the day after the finish *insert cheeky grin*.
What’s the atmosphere like on this race? Who does it attract in terms of other participants?
Firstly it’s not a race, don’t get me wrong there are some competitive people out there but for many it’s just a chance to be able to make a difference and cycle all 545 miles. As far as the demographic I can honestly say the AIDS LifeCycle attracts every single creed, colour, sexual orientation, size and fitness capability. It’s like a rainbow flag of people, every colour and each one as bright and as beautiful as the last.
David Allison and Family
What experiences have you had along the road?
Each year the town of Bradley (population 120) parks their school bus on the outskirts of the town welcoming riders. When you cycle into Bradley there is a huge sense of love and community. They have a BBQ stand selling burgers to riders to raise money for their school and the children wearing official ALC T-shirts. It makes you think if a small town like this can be accepting of this cause then why can’t others?
When people said to me that this ride would be life changing, they were right. Apart from fellow cyclists, the ride gives you the most amazing time for reflection. You are quite often riding roads that are simply in the middle of nowhere, facing the most mountainous of hills, breathtaking of views or just your own thoughts. It is a great opportunity for thinking about the way you live your life, the people you’re helping or how you can do things better. This ride literally fills you up with love for the human spirit. This reflection culminates in camp on the last night. After dinner there is a candlelight vigil on the beach. As Sofia from The Golden Girls would say “picture it..." 2000 people, each holding a candle yet sitting in silence. It can put you at peace, make you cry or just be happy to be alive and marvel in the accomplishment of your week. It is without doubt one of the most spiritual experiences; so much so I believe it fills you with energy for the last day. I don’t know where it comes from but the energy I feel when cycling those last few miles to the finish line is purely electric.
The single most memorable moment of my two ALC rides has to be last year when my Mum surprised me at the finish line. Bearing in mind the longest flight she has ever done would be around 4 hours; to have her there cheering me on was just immeasurable. Thankfully someone took at video of it as it all happened so fast. I have always been fortunate to have my American friends and work colleagues at the finish but to have her there was just awesome… and yes… there were tears.
And finally, where can we donate?
You can donate directly to my fundraising efforts here www.tofighthiv.org/goto/davidallison and may I say a huge thank you in advance.
Previously I’ve blogged en route but this time around I’m going to do it in video format via Instagram, if you’d like to follow along you can do so here www.instagram.com/dfa73
What can I say? This guy is an inspiration - to take to two wheels and cycle this distance, raise funds for charity and also have fun doing it with a bunch of like minded individuals is one heck of a feat. The images David provided from previous events shows that this is hard work - but that everyone pulls together to make it an event to remember for these taking part, and that it raises as much as possible for these worthwhile causes.
If you can, donate - and follow David on his Instagram feed, following the link above.
For those of us who haven’t heard of Aids Lifecycle, can you give us some background
(Taken directly from the ALC website) "AIDS/LifeCycle is a fully supported, 7-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money and awareness in the fight against HIV/AIDS. AIDS/LifeCycle 2015 will take place May 31st through June 6th, 2015. Every year, this landmark ride through beautiful California delivers a life-changing experience for thousands of participants from all backgrounds and fitness levels united by a common desire to do something heroic.”
ALC usually has around 2000 participants and around 500-600 Roadies who support the cyclists and the team. Collectively this year’s ride raised over $15million USD. Each participant commits to raising $3000; this money goes directly to the charities (San Francisco AIDS foundation and LA LGBT Centre). Costs such as flights, hotels pre/post ride etc are paid for by the individual rider. That said, through the week we are fully taken care of by the ALC team; we camp in tents which are provided by ALC as are food, hydration, medical professionals, bike technicians to name a few. ALC is such a massive undertaking each year; I sometimes think the cyclists have the easy job because as you’re cycling or getting ready to ride there are a team of Roadie’s getting up earlier to serve breakfast or setting up that next rest stop. While you’re riding the whole ‘village’ is being transported to the next camp.
Both the San Francisco AIDS foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Centre provide numerous services such as testing, support, education, research and nutritional advice etc. These centres are a lifeline for many, many people who ordinarily wouldn’t have access to help. These organisations make a huge difference in people’s lives and in some cases it literally saves them.
You can find a ton of information about the ride at www.aidslifecycle.org