SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Thousand of cyclists ranging in experience are participating in this year's 16th annual AIDS/LifeCycle ride.
The 7-day trip began in San Francisco and will end this weekend in Los Angeles. Riders will be pedaling 545 miles. They started their trip Friday morning in Lompoc and made a pit stop in Santa Barbara.
For more than 16 years, a group of Santa Barbara residents raise money and recruit volunteers to help them cheer on the cyclists and raise awareness about AIDS/HIV. They formed a pop-up pit stop for cyclists and they set up each year on the corner of Cabrillo Road and Channel Drive in Santa Barbara. They offer snacks, water and support for each cyclist. It's their way of saying thanks.
"They've raised $15 million dollars plus this year for AIDS research and we do this as a grassroots Santa Barbara thing to say thank you to the riders," said Sean Dooner, coordinator for Paradise Pit.
Among the crowd of cyclists on the road, Ginger Brewlay stands out. Brewlay is living with HIV or she calls it "full blown AIDS."
"It's 24/7. Every moment of every day it's trying to kill you," said Brewlay, from Costa Mesa.
Brewlay used to participate in the AIDS/LifeCycle ride, but has since retired. She moved onto driving trucks, volunteering and now she makes appearances to show support. It's her way of sharing her story and educating others about what's really like to live with the disease.
"I've had people say living with HIV is just like living with diabetes. It's manageable disease. Wrong," said Brewlay.
More than 150,000 people are living with HIV in California. Many of them don't have money for medical care and treatment. That's one of many reasons why people like Mark Witko from Los Angeles signed up for the 545 mile ride for the third year.
"We really want to get to a point where there is a generation without infections. We're not there yet, but people are living with this disease everyday and the funding that we raise goes to benefit really essential programs," said Witko.
The riders left Santa Barbara this afternoon and will reach Ventura for a night at a campground. They will also host a vigil to remember the men and women who were killed by the disease.
If you are interested in helping Paradise Pit prepare for next year's pit stop, click here.
For more information about AIDS/LifeCycle, click here.