SFGN Creative Director George Dauphin accompanied the AIDS ride to Key West two weeks ago as a volunteer massage therapist. As you may remember, it turned out to be an unseasonably bitter cold weekend. This is his account of the experience.
Along Highway 1, Saturday morning, motorists slowed down to cheer the cyclists in the cold rain. My Mazda seemed to sway left and right in the heavy gusts of wind, threatening to hydroplane, making its way over the bridges that connect the Keys. The wipers and defroster struggled to keep my vision clear.
I wondered what it was like for the cyclists out there, in the stinging cold rain. I joked that the event could suddenly turn into a triathlon if the wind lifted one of these riders and dumped him in the ocean. But it wasn’t funny. There was real danger out there.
This was my introduction to SMART Ride and my role was simply to drive and assist two massage therapists as part of the support crew. I was amazed by the heroism of the riders. By the time they were ready to start the second leg early Saturday morning, the temperature had dropped to the low 40s, wind-chill in the mid 30s. A relentless ice-cold rain increased the challenge and this event became dangerous. Many were forced to drop out at the first pit stop, due to injury and fear of injury.
My passengers were reluctant to follow my urge to open the windows and take some pictures of these riders as we passed them.
“These riders are making a sacrifice, I said. “We need to show what they are doing.”
“We’re making a sacrifice too,” one of the therapists answered.
“It’s not the same thing,” I said.
In fact, both of these women were making sacrifices. Pauline is a straight woman who was spending time away from her family to offer her services. At the start of the event in Miami, her car broke down. She sat in the unheated vehicle for six hours, waiting to be rescued. She could easily have gone back to the comfort of her home in Broward County. But, with the help of a friend, she went on to the Keys. This was a weekend, after all, about bravery.
Stacie, my other passenger, was just recovering from the flu. She worked a full day at her clinic doing massages up to 7pm on Friday. I picked her up an hour later for the long trip down to Duck Key. This would be the second time she has volunteered to do massage at SMART Ride.
The cyclists were overcoming the elements —and the odds—as if the weather were symbolic of HIV/AIDS. When we finally arrived, and gathered in the hall of a Middle School in Key West, we met the champion cyclists arriving too, soaked to the bone in icy rain.
It was clear that most of us were part of an event greater than any of us; that we played a small role. We cheered, we hugged, we cried. And everyone achieved, grew, and grasped the meaning of the moment.
I thought painfully of lost friends, like Pierre and Gerard who continue to be inspirations in my life; of Peter, my best friend of 11 years; Roger and others who made up my world in the 70s and 80s. I thought of Jose?, a brilliant aspiring writer who died in 1981. We all have such friends and memories. On this day though, the past became the present.
The frigid weather weekend reminded me of days when Jose? and I braved colder venues to watch a Bertolucci film. We had no idea, those of us who are old enough, of what took Jose?’s life back then. But here now, I have no doubt he too would have been in Key West had he lived
That being the case, this was where I be- longed, among my friends, those no longer with us, and those fighting to remain.