Three bearded gents in black and yellow spandex kits stared up the hill with trepidation. 30 miles into what would become a 70-mile training ride that day, their legs already began to ache in anticipation. They huddled at the foot of the hill and quickly ate some caffeinated jelly beans as if they somehow would bestow upon them super human powers to climb the 770 foot elevation. The hill, known as Marshall Wall, for its’ steep grade and 2-mile vertical climb taunted the cyclists, waiting to pass judgment about whether they had sufficiently trained to complete a much longer journey.
On June 5th 2, 500 riders and 650 volunteers known as “roadies,” began an epic 545-mile trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles for the 15th anniversary of the AIDS Lifecycle (ALC). This community of riders and roadies has spent the past year putting their blood, sweat and tears into raising over $16MM to make HIV/AIDS something our kids will read about in history books.
Helping to make this HIV-free world a reality is new whiskery team of 9 known as, The Bearded Bandits.
“We want to break negative stereotypes of bearded men, and although bandits are outlaws who don’t play by the rules—I see our team like a bearded band of Robin Hoods, giving back to people who’ve been robbed by HIV/AIDS,” explains the team’s co-captain JP Aguirre. Together, the team has raised over $50K – each raising far more than the $3K per rider minimum.
Beyond fundraising, training for this physically demanding event is no easy feat. The team has been riding together on weekends as far back as November 2015—going anywhere from 50 to 90-mile distance rides along with fitting in spin and endurance related classes. The team draws inspiration from the ALC community itself to push through the challenges.
“For me, taking part in ALC is a way to give back to the community that shaped so much of my identity. It’s important to me, that when we can, we help others who are at risk, in order to give them the best shot of having all the opportunities we have. That’s what makes this event so special—that we rally when called,” shares first-time rider, Doug Behl.
Other veteran riders on the team continue to participate, often looking at putting your body through hell during the week as a vacation. Cliff Curry states, “The first time I rode was to do something outside my comfort zone, get fit and see the California coast. I now ride because it is the one week a year that I feel really connected to something bigger than myself. And while challenging, it is always rewarding. People are more connected, not distracted by their phones, and often in a hilariously good mood.”
In staying true to the mantra that one does not need a beard to be part of beardsman society, a beard is also not required to be a Bearded Bandit team. All that’s required is to treat others with respect, positive energy and an appreciation for the mighty beard. The team’s sole whiskerina, Abigail Sassoon shares, “I’m excited to ride with the Bearded Bandits this year, they’re a great group of gentleman and wonderful teammates. Although I obviously don’t have a beard, I see that as an invitation to find creative ways to show my team spirit.”
So for those that are contemplating doing something like the AIDS Lifecycle, Matt Kaye mentions how working as a team makes the experience a little smoother doing this as a first-time rider. “Between the training and the gear it’s all a steep learning curve. But the team has been awesome in helping me figure everything out. I think it would be much tougher to do this on my own.”
Back at the summit of Marshall Wall, our three Bandit Bandits, now sweaty from the climb stared victoriously out into the distance. To the West they could see Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond it. And in every other direction, they saw green fields slowly browning as California’s wet spring began to give way to the dry summer. Cows moo’ed in the distance and the three Bearded Bandits laughed, they had conquered Marshall Wall and they knew they were ready to conquer the 7-day odyssey down the California coast.
If you’d like to support the team for their efforts, you can give donations to individual members here on the Aids Lifecycle Site.