Those who know me know that I like to bike. In fact it's become a rather serious addiction, albeit one I'd rather not seek treatment for.
At the beginning of June I'll be pedaling my very spiffy Italian-made bicycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles on AIDS/LifeCycle 12. AIDS/LifeCycle raises money for the programs of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center's Jeffrey Goodman Clinic. And you can help me out by clicking this link.
Riding a bike from San Francisco to LA is an undertaking--not an impossible one, as I keep reminding certain of my friends here and elsewhere, just an impressive one. In a sense though, the ride is simply the reward I get for doing the hard work, which consists of asking for money. Follow me past the Daily Kos Orange Cheese Danish and I'll tell you why the ride matters.
First, let's take a look at me. AIDS/LifeCycle begins on June 2nd. I turn 62 exactly a week earlier. I've been HIV-positive for over half my life. Somehow (probably thanks to genetics) I've managed to stay healthy; based on my subjective observations I'm more the exception than the rule. Very few of my gay male friends are my age; most are younger or older. The guys I used to hang out with when I was in my 20's, 30's and even my 40's are mainly dead. I take medications, regularly visit an entire team of doctors. I go to the gym twice a week (I'd go more often but for the all the biking I do). I try to get enough sleep. I don't run around the way I did when I was young and foolish because I may still be foolish at times but I'm definitely no longer young. I'm clean and sober going on 25 years. I've ridden my bike from San Francisco to LA twelve times now and each time I've begun training months and months before the actual event, convinced that, unless I trained assiduously for eight months, I'd never be able to make it. I'm probably overly concerned but I really like riding a bicycle so honestly it isn't that big a deal.
Over the past thirty years I've lost two partners and countless friends, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances to AIDS. I've witnessed the progression of the epidemic from a whisper within the gay community to the start of research efforts, to the founding of AIDS Service Organizations and activist groups like ACT-UP, to government resistance to doing anything, to draconian immigration restrictions, to the development of better, albeit still problematic and expensive treatments. In the early 1980's AIDS mainly affected the gay community along with some other marginalized groups. These days, although the preponderance of new HIV infections in the US takes place among gay and bisexual men, the overwhelming majority of HIV infections, AIDS diagnoses, and AIDS deaths around the world occurs among heterosexuals. Witnessing the enormous transitions in the progress of the AIDS epidemic is in itself an overwhelming experience that I hope to document at some point. But meanwhile let's take a look at things as they stand now.
One final point before I move on to the topic of this diary: I hope nobody here (or elsewhere for that matter) labors under the impression that, at least in the United States, AIDS is always a manageable condition. Only a day or so ago, in the course of completing another online chore I made one of those discoveries that one really doesn't like to make by way of using the internet: One of the people who I participated in my first AIDS ride with in 1999, and with whom I served on the board of directors of the group Positive Pedalers, passed away almost a year ago. I found this out only because I discovered that one of the participants in this year's AIDS/LifeCycle is his surviving partner, doing the ride in his memory. People do still die from AIDS, even those who live in "first world" surroundings and who have access to adequate health care.
As of 2010 (the last year for which I can find definitive information) there is on average 1.1 new HIV infection in San Francisco every day. There are 7,000 new HIV infections in California every year. Throughout the US, one person is infected with HIV every 9 1/2 minutes. The proportion of gay vs "other" decreases as one goes from San Francisco to nationwide; in San Francisco, 60% of new infections are of gay and bisexual men (or MSM's, that is men-who-have-sex-with-men); statewide the proportion is higher (over 75%) while the nationwide proportion of HIV-infections involving gay men is just over half. More than 60% of all those living with HIV in California reside either in Los Angeles or San Francisco and in terms of absolute numbers, on a cumulative basis over the course of the AIDS epidemic, California has the highest percentage of AIDS cases among all states.
So in case you've been wondering why I keep riding my bike and why I keep asking for donations, now you know. My title says that donating money really does make a difference. It's time for some concrete illustrations if you will bear with me...
- $10 buys 143 condoms. We know that condoms, properly used, prevent the transmission of HIV.
- $25 covers the cost of STD treatment for one of the benefiting organization's clients. Untreated STD infection is associated with a greater risk of transmitting and contracting HIV.
- $100 covers the cost of a course of Hepatitis A and B vaccinations. Coinfection (HIV and one form or another of hepatitis) is a serious problem for certain segments of the population served by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Infection with any form of hepatitis and especially chronic infection with hepatitis makes treating HIV more difficult. A liver infected with hepatitis is less able to tolerate many of the medications used to treat HIV. Various forms of hepatitis are also linked to liver disease and liver cancer; the latter greatly impacts the ability of those living with HIV to remain healthy (any number of the friends I've lost to AIDS died at least partly due to liver cancer).
- $150 covers comprehensive HIV/STD testing for one person.
- $175 covers the cost of providing HIV prevention counseling for a group of up to twenty teenagers.
- $250 covers the cost of administering 20 Rapid HIV tests at one of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation's testing sites: Magnet (located in the heart of the Castro District), the Stop AIDS Project (located nearby), or the San Francisco AIDS Foundation's office in downtown San Francisco.
- $1,000 covers the cost of providing Post-Exposure Prophylaxis for one person. Post Exposure Prophylaxis (or PEP) has been shown to be effective of preventing someone exposed to HIV from becoming permanently infected.
- $5,000 covers the cost of a full year's worth of lab testing for 18 people who live with HIV. I get lab testing done four times a year. I'm lucky; my insurance will cover most of the cost of that testing. Many people are not so fortunate. Continued tracking of CD-4 and CD-8 counts and viral loads and various other aspects of blood chemistry is essential for managing treatment.
Let's go for broke, shall we? After all, it's really cool to be generate a huge donation.
Moving up the ladder...
- $7,500 can help provide a nurse for one month to administer STD screenings and treatments to 100 Magnet clients.
- $10,000 can help provide counseling services for more than 250 clients in one month through The Stonewall Project—which combines substance use, mental health, and HIV prevention. Substance abuse and mental health problems are leading predictors of HIV infection.
- $15,000 can help 120 Magnet clients receive sexual health services, including HIV and STD tests, treatment, education and counseling.
- $25,000 can help provide a half-time peer advocate who can see 50 clients for a year, helping them get to their doctor appointments and assisting them with daily living activities.
- $50,000 can help provide a counselor at The Stonewall Project who can see 40 clients a year for harm reduction counseling, which integrates substance use, mental health, and HIV prevention and education.
So...who wants to give me a $50,000 donation and help 40 individuals participate in harm reduction counseling for a year. Come on, you know you want to do it, right? You can pay it off over up to ten months. Anyone? Okay...can't fault a guy for asking, can ya?
You know it's really unfortunate that I need to keep on doing this ride, even though it does keep me fit. It's also unfortunate that money in the amounts I've cited above isn't available through public funding. As a nation we most certainly would be better served by a greater commitment to our own physical and mental well-being. One of the activities that the AIDS Foundation engages in which is NOT funded by AIDS/LifeCycle is lobbying at the local, state and federal level for better health care, for more of a commitment to HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention and for equal rights for all. The money for those activities comes from other sources which is why donations to AIDS/LifeCycle are tax deductible.
By any measure, AIDS/LifeCycle has been a phenomenally successful event throughout its history. AIDS/LifeCycle 11, in 2012, was the second largest single AIDS-related fundraising event in history having raised $12,802,110, 67.9% of which went to the rides's beneficiaries. What event raised more money for AIDS? AIDS/LifeCycle 10, the year before, which raised over $13 million. There were fewer riders last year than there had been the year prior (that was the tenth anniversary of the ride so of course many veterans came back for the occasion). On a per-participant basis, last year's ride was actually more successful--almost $5,800 raised per rider. The figure is not quite accurate of course since the non-riding participants (we call them "roadies") also raise money; in some cases they raise quite a bit though unlike riders there is no minimum amount of fundraising for them. We couldn't actually ride without the "roadies" who do everything from marking the route to setting up and striking our campsites to providing massage, chiropractic, sports medicine and regular medical services to serving the food, to staffing the rest stops to picking us up if our bikes or our bodies break down on the route to making sure we leave everything at least as clean was we found it once we've passed by. That's why I've set my goal so high. I've committed to raising $7,500 this year. I've made that commitment for the past three years; one of these years I'll even get there! The money really does matter. The more I raise the more efficient the event becomes. The more I raise, the more people get the services they need, the more lives are improved, the more lives are saved.
I do have to tell you, despite the grim statistics, the work involved in training, the constant begging for donations, the ride is fun. In part it's fun because it's in California and California is beautiful. The ride is festive; the people are wonderful and some are quite colorful as well.
So whaddya say? Do you want to help me make a difference? Of course you do. Do you want to see a upper-middle-aged man ride a bike over 500 miles in a week? Of course you do.
This is what I looked like at the very end of last year's AIDS/LifeCycle.
My name is Bob and I bike for AIDS.