Five Reasons Why I’m Riding 545 Miles in 7 Days

698401a1-c6d2-41f4-a876-378b4f6fcbdaAfter a 6-year hiatus and a year of training and fundraising, the time has come for me to embark on an epic 7-day, 545-mile bike ride from SF to LA.

It’s time to do my 8th AIDS/LifeCycle ride.

A week from tomorrow, I’ll ride my bike out of San Francisco down to Santa Cruze through some of the most breathtaking coastal views of California. The following three days will take me to Steinbeck Country where lush vineyards and strawberry fields are abound. From there, I climb back to the coast for the final two legs of this journey.

It sounds daunting, but it isn’t. Yes I’ll be riding an average of 65 miles/day. Every day. For 7 days. But it will all be worth it.

I keep coming back to this ride for a reason. Well, five reasons to be exact:

05. Real People with Real Needs Count on Me

As I said, this will be my 8th AIDS/LifeCycle event. I love raising money for good causes and this event is one of the finest. It’s co-organized by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center–an organization I’ve long admired and supported. I’ve always been a big fan of the Center’s leaders and selfless, hardworking staff and volunteers. Most of the services it offers are critical in nature. From housing, health and legal help to employment, career and domestic violence assistance. It has something to offer the entire community across all ages, races, genders and sexual orientations.

The Center has been able to save countless lives over the years because of fundraising events like this. This is why I ride.

The money raised for this event (I’ve raised $13K so far) goes to help vulnerable, destitude kids get a place to stay and learn marketable skills. It ensures that seniors, who oftentimes find themselves alone in their twilight years, have the dignified housing and services they deserve. It gives people access to critical medications they can’t afford on their own.

I know people that would have been dead or on the street had it not been for the services sustained by this fundraiser. Knowing that the money I raise literally saves lives is the most gratifying and fulfilling feeling I’ve ever experienced.

But it’s not only about the money. It’s about increasing awareness of the struggle these people go through every day. Every time I fundraise, I raise awareness. The ride itself is meant to raise awareness.

This very blog post is a form of raising awareness.

04. The Physical (and Mental) Challenge

Call me crazy, but getting to see the best parts of my beautiful California while riding my bike for 7 days straight is my idea of fun. True, there will be moments of pain. True, there will be moments of, “what the hell was I thinking”. True, there will be blood, sweat and tears. But isn’t that what makes it fun and memorable?

No pain, no gain

Granted, the human body was not really designed to hop on a bike and peddle for 8 hours. Every day. For 7 days. Doing the ride requires getting out of your comfort zone.

Big time.

For example:

  1. Fundraising. I don’t know anyone that enjoys this task, but we all have to do it. Unless you’re a politician, asking people for money is probably something you’re not comfortable with. I hate asking people for money, but every time I feel timid or shy about asking for a donation, I remember those faces whose lives count on this money to, literally, not die. Knowing that makes it so easy to break that mental barrier and ask for money.
  2. Training. Let’s face it, getting up at 5am on a freezing Saturday morning to squeeze your body into spandex and ride 50 miles up a hill isn’t something you look forward to. It requires both mental and physical commitment and focus.
  3. Climbing. I actually love climbing hills, but not because it’s easy or that I’m particularly good at it, both of which are untrue. It’s because that no matter how much you ride, peddling up a hill is always a challlenge. The steeper the hill, the harder the challenge.

03. The Community

AIDS/LifeCycle is all about the community. The challenges we have to overcome together to make it on this ride bring us together and create bonds that last a lifetime.

We’re kind, we’re accommodating, we’re patient and we’re loving towards one another.

Some of my strongest friendships were forged on the ride. It’s been proven that being a part of a community has positive effects on your physical and mental health.

It’s very true.

04. I Do It for Me

Every time I do this ride, I come back home with many lessons learned about myself, my shortcomings and my strengths. When you’re on a long stretch of road, climbing up a hill with no one else around, you tend to think about things.

Big things.

hours of solitude on the road heightens your sense of self-awareness

You contemplate a lot of things. Your life, your career, your mistakes, your wins, your battles. You understand some and you know yourself a whole lot better in the process.

That alone makes the 7-day, 545-mile trek worth it for me.

05. I Do It for Eddie

My friend Eddie Glover was handsome, funny and loved life. He was a Southern gentleman with an incredible entrepreneurial drive. He and I used to brainstorm our next “big idea” over beer and gumbo. He never believed in working for other people. He always wanted to be his own boss.

I admired his tenacity and envied his impeccable savoir faire.

Eddie lived with AIDS for twenty years before his death in 2006. His last months were awful. He lost a lot of weight and became a shadow of his previous self. His tenacity waned and the spark in his eyes extinguished.

I ride for Eddie and all departed friends who lost their lives to AIDS too soon. I ride for those dealing with physical and mental challenges that prevent them from partaking in this magnificent event. I ride for my sponsors who have placed a great deal of trust in my ability to make it on the ride.

I ride for a generation lost to government inaction, public fear and unforgiving stigma

This is why I ride.

A year ago, I set out to raise $10K. Today, I’m almost at $15K. I’m still fundraising and will continue to do so till Day 0 for all the aforementioned reasons.

Will you support me?

Ismail Elshareef. Rider #1622

The Deep Wounds of Prop8 And Why The Anger Over Mozilla’s New CEO

When Proposition 8 passed in California back in 2008, the gay community and their supporters were livid. The fact that a minority’s civil right was put on the ballot and in the end denied by a bigoted, albeit small, majority was an unspeakable injustice. The community mobilized and fought back. Gay-friendly businesses that supported Prop8 were boycotted. El Coyote Restaurant in Los Angeles, which had a large gay clientele, lost almost 30% of its revenue because of a $100 donation made in support of Prop8 by its owner. Six years later, the restaurant never recovered.

Prop8 caused an irreversible chasm between its supporters, who were against gay marriage, and its proponents, who saw it as a human right. Old friends severed ties over Prop8. Family members stopped talking to each other over Prop8. Some businesses suffered and some thrived because of Prop8.

But the real victims here were the families whose lives were changed forever because of that law. Multinational couples couldn’t legally stay together because of visa issues that marriage could have taken care of.

Real livelihoods were forever damaged because of Prop8.

Prop8 wasn’t about differences in opinion. It’s about denying a group of people an undeniable civil right. It’s about exclusion. It’s about injustice. It was a blatant display of homophobia sanctioned by the state. It’s about state-run bigotry.

Eventually, Prop8 was struck down as unconstitutional but the scars still remain. The rift between the camps on both sides of the issue was and still is irreconcilable.

On March 24th, 2014, controversy broke out when Mozilla appointed Prop8 supporter, Brendan Eich, CEO. Many, including me, denounced the announcement while others came to Brendan’s support saying he’s entitled to his “private opinion.”

Brendan has an unfavorable view of gay people, which is fine. It’s a free country. But he financially supported Prop8 and played a role in its passage. He actively imposed his exclusionary and bigoted views on the rest of us.

As a private citizen, Brendan is 100% free to be as bigoted and as homophobic as his heart desires. Again, it’s a free country. But he’s not a private citizen anymore. He’s the face of Mozilla, which till recently had a progressive and inclusionary image. It’s disingenuous of Mozilla to appoint a man with an exclusionary mindset to run its inclusionary culture.

Gandhi said, “actions express priorities.” Brendan Eich and all the Prop8 supporters have taken action to deny a minority their civil rights. That should tell you where their priorities lie. The question is, is that Mozilla’s priority? Sure sounds like it judging by their latest action.

A lot of people have called on Eich to apologize. I disagree with that. Why make a man apologize for his personal beliefs. Bullying him into apologizing is in and of itself equally disingenuous. Brendan believes that gay people should be excluded from the civil benefits of marriage and actively sought to enforce that opinion of exclusion on all of us by supporting Prop8. Why should he say that didn’t mean it or that he’s sorry. He’s not.

It’s time for the Mozilla Board to act. Their inaction so far is in direct violation of their public image as an inclusive community–or are they?

A big priority of mine is to ensure the failure of all bigots, especially those that are actively trying to marginalize my life and my relationships. My actions, in turn, will be an expression of that priority. First action: writing this article. Many more actions to come.