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Every year since 1994, thousands of cyclists have jumped on their bikes and pedaled 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles as part of the AIDS/LifeCycle, the world’s largest HIV/AIDS fundraising event.
For seven days, riders rise before 6 a.m. and often cycle until 5 p.m. Melissa Cheng, Cocofloss’s Head of Product, Merchandising & Operations, who rode in 2016, says, “There are days you cover more than 100 miles and climb hills for three hours at a time.”
Given these challenges, what can newbie riders do to stay comfy and blister free? We tapped veteran riders for a packing list of unexpected, but essential, items every ALC participant should bring, as well as a few tricks for making the trip easier. Learned from experience, the following insider tips will ensure you have a happy and successful week on the road.
**Not riding, but want to participate? It’s not too late to donate. Cocofloss will be donating 10% of the proceeds of our Pride Pack. If we sell 545 packs, we will double that donation.**
Sometimes a shower cap isn’t just for keeping your hair dry. Burt Barber, a tech worker in Arizona and four-time rider, recommends tucking a particularly distinctive one in your saddlebag. At the end of each day’s ride, cover your seat with it. In the morning, it will keep your seat from getting dewy and help you find your bike.
“Take a photo of the name of the row where you parked your bike,” adds Danny Baker, a veteran of nine rides and three-time captain of Team Walmart. “It gets confusing after a few days as they all blend together.”
(Need some fundraising inspiration? Since starting out with ALC 7, Baker has raised more than $85,000 for the ride.)
In general, clip-on safety lights can be great for increasing your visibility when you bike. On the AIDS/LifeCycle ride, they can protect you from getting lost during a 2 a.m. porta-potty run.
Attach one to your tent, and when you head to the bathroom, click it on. “It will be your beacon in a sea of identical tents,” says Barber. (Be sure to turn it off when you get back to your tent.)
A headlamp is another must-have for those visits to the porta-potties in the “wee” hours. You’ll appreciate being able to see where you’re stepping and keep your hands free.
Turns out shower curtain liners can protect you from showers of the rainy sort, too. Pack one or two. “If rain is in the forecast, put them under and over your tent and belongings to keep them dry at night,” says Baker.
Pack five to eight dryer sheets in your luggage. They’ll “keep things from smelling too bad,” says Baker.
“Pack each day’s kit — shorts, jersey, socks, underwear — in a separate ziploc bag,” says two-time rider (2003 and 2010) Jenny McGlinchey. “If your duffle gets wet, your clothes will stay dry.”
Label each bag “Day 1,” “Day 2,” etc. It’ll make finding your clothes in the predawn darkness much easier.
Take advantage of your body’s portable heating system. Put your clothes for the next day inside the foot of your sleeping bag at night. “This way, they’ll capture your body heat, and you won’t have to put on a frozen kit in the morning,” says McGlinchey.
Adds Baker, “If you have damp clothes at night, put them under your sleeping bag but on top of your sleep pad. Your body heat will dry them.”
When you need to hang your clothes and towels to dry, Baker recommends using big binder clips. They can stand up to fierce winds better than clothes pins.
“Never wash all your pants on the same day,” advises two-time rider (2014 and 2018) Andrea Segura Smith. “You will be riding in wet pants the next day.”
Sitting in the saddle for 545 miles can make for a pretty tender tush. Four-time rider Andrew Vo says to bring “[butt] wipes for sure.”
Soap might be in short supply at some pit stops, too. A small packet of wipes can do double duty to keep your heinie and your hands clean.
(Inspirational sidenote: A captain in the U.S. Army, Vo said the ride empowered him to “come out and inspire others in the military to lead a life free from discrimination and stigmatization.” In 2018, Vo rode as co-captain of Team Outserve, a 24-person team with members from nearly all branches of the military including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines.)
Thought balms were just for your lips? Guess again. Explains Cocofloss’s Melissa Cheng, “Apply butt balm to your clean riding shorts. It keeps your bottom from chafing during the many hours in the saddle. When I got to the finish line, I was totally fine.”
Protect your nose and lips from the sun with zinc oxide. “Start using it on day one,” says Barber. “By day four, others will start getting blisters, but you won’t.”
Sure, you need to wear SPF chapstick, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add a glamorous top coat. Cheng carried Chanel red lipstick in one of her jersey pockets. The fabulous color was great for photos and gave her “a fun signature look on the road.”
“One thing that is a must — that I forgot last year — is a loofah or some other abrasive cloth for showering,” says Jen Balkus, a three-time rider (2007, 2012, and 2018) and epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health. (Her research team evaluated a vaginal ring that has been proven to reduce the risk of HIV transmission in women.)
“It is shocking how much grime you are coated with at the end of the day, especially when you are adding layer upon layer of sunscreen. A loofah works miracles for cleaning off miles and miles of dust, bike grease, and SPF 30.”
Don’t forget to take care of your chompers! “You’re on the bike for so many hours. It’s a horrible feeling to have anything stuck in your teeth for that long,” says Cheng. To keep her smile comfy, she stashed her favorite Strawberry Cocofloss in her saddle bag.
Forget fluffy bath sheets. You want things compact and quick-drying. “Chamois towels work great,” says Barber.
After a long day of riding on two wheels, you’re going to want your luggage to have wheels too. Your tired muscles will thank you for the well-earned break.
If you’re purchasing a new bag for the ride, look for one with a handle on the top and the side. It’ll make handing your bag to the roadies much easier.
Barber likes to bring a mesh three-liter bag. It folds down to almost nothing, but it does a big job. “Use it to carry your water bottles, bike computer, etcetera after you turn in your bike so you don’t have to juggle all your belongings as you walk to get your gear bag,” he says.
Smith recommends clipping a collapsible shopping bag (the kind that scrunches down into a tiny pouch; many come with their own carabiners) to your bike seat.
Bring a second tote for your bathroom supplies, says Baker. After you unpack, you can quickly grab it and head to the shower.
You’re going to spend a lot of time in the sun. Might as well harness some of that energy. Barber advises attaching a portable solar charger to your hydration pack or bike bag so you can charge as you ride. At night, you can use it to power up your phone and bike computer.
“My wife and I found two large, rogue red ostrich-sized feathers on the ground at the end of day one (they certainly fell off someone else’s elaborate outfit for the day),” says Balkus. “We each put one in our helmet for decoration. Not only did this make our helmets that much more fabulous, but this turned out to be a great tool for finding each other in a crowd. Whether it be in a porta-potty line or when we got separated on the road, in a sea of helmets, I would always look for the feather sticking up.”
Cheng sported a colorful neckerchief emblazoned with the words “good luck” in several languages. As cute as it was, she says the neckerchief wasn’t just for fashion: “Since everyone pedals at a different pace, sometimes there are stretches where you’re by yourself. The scarf moved in the wind, creating a safety flag to help motorists see me.”
Cheng credits the scarf with getting her across the finish line in heavy rain. “Right before we reached Malibu, it started to rain nonstop,” she says. “The fog was building along the coastline, and I could barely see three feet in front of me. Water sloshed in my shoes as I pedaled. My gloves were soaked and I could feel my fingers pruning against the handlebars. But my lucky scarf held up and kept my neck warm while everything else started to stick to my body.”
A word of advice on food: don’t over do it. You can chow down on a vegetarian or omnivorous breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but overeating can backfire. Baker suggests eating enough to get to each rest stop to refuel.
Insider Tip: There’s a big hill after lunch on day one. “If you can, let your food settle a bit before heading out,” says Baker.
The fully supported ride includes rest stops every 15 to 20 miles with water, electrolyte solutions, and snacks.
“If you’re eating fruit or carbs for energy, eat nuts,” says Baker. “They’ll keep you from sugar crashing.”
Yes, you want to be sure to bring the essentials, but it’s also important to resist packing your entire wardrobe. Remember: your gear bag has to hold everything, including your sleeping bag, and it can’t weigh more than 70 pounds. (But be kind to the roadies and try to keep it under 50 pounds.)
“My first year, I signed up late and didn’t read the emails from my participant rep,” confesses AIDS/Lifecycle outreach manager and three-time roadie Maggie Monroe. “I ended up packingwaytoo much, including my curling iron, a hairdryer, and seven carefully coordinated outfits for the camp sites, of which I wore one.”
“When picking up your luggage, be sure to thank the gear and tent team roadies, who helped haul your gear from camp to camp,” says roadie coordinator and three-time cyclist Kate Hanus. “They lift an incredible 840 tons of luggage over the course of the ride.”
Cheering on the 3,000 cyclists are a joy for Roadies!
Of course, the list above is only a supplement to the comprehensive AIDS/Lifecycle Packing List. From rain pants (rain does not stop the ride!) to ear plugs (you might not want to hear everything your neighbor has to say in their sleep)to floss, the ALC’s packing list has got you covered.
Wondering how the heck to fit all the essentialsand your sleeping bag and pad into a single bag? Watch the super helpful AIDS/LifeCycle Packing Clinic video.
This illustrated guide to what to pack also offers great nitty-gritty details. And Iyengar yoga teacher Tony Eason’s ALC packing list is worth a look too. A veteran of more than 20 rides, he has gotten prepping for the ride down to a science.
Celebrating under the rainbow balloon arch at the Finish Line Festival at Fairfax High School
Some 1.2 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and an estimated 39,000 will become infected this year. Since starting in 1994, the AIDS/LifeCycle has raised more than $280 million to help pay for critical services, such as HIV testing, medical care, prevention services, and community outreach. You can sponsor individual riders or make a general donation to AIDS/LifeCycle.
As mentioned at the start, Cocofloss is donating 10% of the proceeds of our Pride Pack to the AIDS/LifeCycle. If we sell 545 packs, we will double that donation.
Every color is beautiful on its own, but together we can bend the sky. 🚴🌈🚴