LONE STAR RIDE JOURNAL
My journey to the Lone Star Ride started in 1991 when I left Washington, D.C., and AIDS — or so I had hoped — behind in my rear view mirror. At 28 years old, I had become an AIDS widow.
My partner, Michael Walsh, was on an experimental AIDS drug in 1990. In August of that year he started complaining of constant headaches. Within a couple of weeks he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and started radiation therapy.
One night in early November, I had fallen asleep next to his hospital bed in the makeshift bedroom we had constructed for him in one of the sun porches at our house. Around 11 p.m. I was jolted awake by the absence of sound.
I went over to his bed, placed my hand on his chest and called his name. He took one last startling gasp and was gone.
During this same time period, I had lost another four friends to AIDS, Two weeks later, I received a call from my friend, Nick. His partner, Jim, had been a friend of Mike’s. Within the week Jim was gone.
By March 1991, I had decided it was time to start my life over somewhere where I could be far away from all the death, grief and AIDS that had consumed me for the past several months. I had arrived at my new apartment on Cedar Springs on Memorial Day weekend.
For years, I ignored AIDS as best I could. I set about rebuilding my life and had decided that AIDS didn’t have a place in it. As far as I was concerned I had given all I had to give. I had done my time. I met my new partner, Ramon Garcia, and we settled into a normal life.
Then one evening in early 2005, I ran into my friend, Jim Frederick (alias Buffy). When I told him that I had started teaching spin classes, he got this little gleam in his eye and started telling me about the Lone Star Ride. I protested that I couldn’t ride 175 miles. He said, "I do this ride every year. You teach spin three days a week, and you don’t think you can do it. Now how does that work?"
I knew Buffy had been waging a personal battle with AIDS since before I met him in 1991. My guilty interpretation of his question was this: "If I can do this ride every year with all of my health issues, why is it that you, who is standing there perfectly healthy, can’t do this for me?"
That night I went online the to LSRWeb site and registered.
In June 2005, I did my first LSR training ride: 75 miles and it was fun. Then I attended something called a "Pledge Drop Social" where I bought an LSR cap and jersey, which wore them to my spin class where I announced that I was doing the Lone Star Ride and so should they! Six people from the class signed up and we started training together as a team.
We were all ready to roll when our big balloon of excitement was suddenly burst by Hurricane Rita which forced cancellation of the ride. There was a one-day makeup ride in November, but it was all just anticlimactic at that point.
When I finally got to do the actual two-day ride in 2006, the enormity of the Lone Star Ride and what it stood for finally hit me. I had managed to raise almost $12,000 that second year and was quite proud of that achievement. The mileage didn’t intimidate me anymore. I was ready to go. This was going to be a slam-dunk!
Unfortunately, my arhritic knees had other plans. After the first 10 miles my knees began to hurt. At the lunch pit, I asked the medical crew to wrap my left knee. It felt better, and I managed to do the "century loop" for 100 miles on day one. On day two, I started out with the left knee wrapped and by the time I got to the lunch pit, the right knee was really hurting. So I got a massage, took some aspirin and got on my bike with both knees wrapped as tightly as I could stand. By the time I got to the last pit before holding, I was in incredible pain. But to me, stopping was not an option. More than 160 people had given me money, and I had committed to do this ride. I was not going to stop now.
The last 10 miles into Fort Worth became my own personal hell on two wheels. Both knees felt like they were on fire. My allergies had kicked in and my sinuses were on fire. And after 160 miles on the bike my ass was pretty much on fire, too. I was not happy.
I wanted to stop so badly. But as I rode along thinking about how much I was hurting, I started thinking about Mike. I had dedicated this ride to him. And then I started saying to myself, "You must do this. This pain is temporary. What they went through was permanent. Don’t you dare stop now."
This ride was bringing back memories of all those I had lost. I felt as if they were all riding on my shoulders. The closer I got to the holding pit, the more I began to cry, only now I was crying for all the people I had lost. It seemed endless. And then I started to hear clapping and cheering. I looked up — I was finally there. And all that cheering was for me! No one had ever cheered for me!
I was stunned. I started doing this weird combination of laughing and smiling and crying all at the same time; a mix of physical pain, heartache and exhilaration overtook me.
While I can never forget the amazing feeling of accomplishment I got from finishing my first real Lone Star Ride, I have since come to realize that my "finish at all costs" mindset was really about exorcizing my personal demons. Now, if my knees start hurting too much, I flag down a SAG wagon and hitch a ride to the next pit. The actual, physical ride is a symbol. It’s a rallying point that can motivate us all to reach inside to find our better selves and join others in the fight against AIDS.
Whether we choose to ride, to crew or to donate money, the important thing is that we heed the call to serve others when we hear it rather than turning a deaf ear as I had managed to do for many years.
But maybe it’s time for you to rejoin the fight. Heed that call and join me, Buffy and everyone else on the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS.
Arlen Miller recently stepped down as co-chair of the 2009 Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS to accept a position as development manager for Lone Star Ride.
The Lone Star Ride Journal will appear weekly in Dallas Voice through Sept. 25, the Friday preceding the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS on Sept. 26-27.
For more information on Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS, or to donate to Team Dallas Voice, a Team Dallas Voice member or any other rider or team, go online to LoneStarRide.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 3, 2009.