On the last day of a grueling seven-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it must be a real treat to receive chocolate candies from costumed revelers cheering your efforts. That’s what happened on June 11 as the unofficial “Chocolate Stop” returned to Malibu after a two-year pandemic hiatus. It made for a colorful and delicious near-end for riders bicycling in 2022’s AIDS/LifeCycle Ride.
Formerly called the California AIDS Ride, the fundraising event began in 1994 to raise money and awareness for AIDS-related causes. Specifically, the millions raised over the years funds the work of San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center to provide free HIV/AIDS medical care, testing and prevention services. According to its mission, bicyclists raise funds and awareness to end the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, grow activism, and honor those who have passed from AIDS-related causes all while providing a positive, life-affirming experience for people affected by the disease.
However, a seven-day, 545-mile bike ride is tiring, especially on the last day and especially after slogging up a steep incline. So, in an effort to boost spirits, provide caloric energy, and just have fun, a volunteer named Lisa Bennett organized what’s become known as the “Chocolate Stop” in Malibu on the last leg of the journey. Bennett had been a two-time rider and three-time roadie who helps riders, whose teaching career no longer allowed her to participate in the time-consuming training and event. However, she still wanted to participate in some way, she wrote in an email, because “I know what it’s like riding so many miles and so many hills every day and I know what an incredible treat it is to be rewarded by strangers with goodies. I knew the riders would appreciate a little sweetness to keep them going until the lunch stop.”
Bennett and her pals started out their nearly two-decade unofficial stop handing out chocolates at Pacific Coast Highway and Emily Shane/Heathercliff Drive, where cyclists have just finished struggling up the steep incline from Zuma Beach. It’s the last hill the riders climb on their destination to Los Angeles and Pride celebrations throughout the city.
Since Bennett was not able to continue the tradition this year, the unofficial Chocolate Stop was taken over by some do-gooders whom The Malibu Times were unable to reach before deadline. One man named Mark, dressed in an inflatable unicorn costume, delighted the riders with Twix, Hershey’s, Snickers, Reese’s cups, Almond Joy, $100 Grand and KitKat bars.
Since the Chocolate Stop is not an official stop on the tour, many cyclists are pleasantly caught off-guard with offers of chocolates and water. It’s an amusing game trying to hand off the candy to a moving target on a bicycle, like handing off a baton in a relay race; accidents happen, and sometimes it can get a bit messy. According to longtime participant Mark Frey of Rancho Palos Verdes, “It’s either coffee or chocolate that keeps us moving. People love to stop at the Chocolate Stop to get their chocolate fix.”
Of course, the chocolate isn’t the only reason Frey likes this part of the ride.
“I love riding through Malibu,” Frey commented. “Malibu has some of the most scenic coastal routes of any place in California and, trust me, I have ridden from San Francisco to San Diego and I just love that stretch of Malibu.”
Speaking of love, Frey met his husband at Trancas Market while stopping on a training ride. The couple made a family and now has two adult daughters. Frey’s AIDS/LifeCycle Ride this year was his 15th. He and his husband raised nearly $20,000 this year. Overall, the AIDS/LifeCycle Ride has raised more than $17 million in 2022.