550 Miles, 2 Friends, and a Good Cause

May 25, 2018

Next month, homegrown Islanders Miebaka Yohannes and Felix Cardinal will join nearly 3,000 cyclists making the 550-mile journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The grueling seven-day ride is a fundraiser for AIDS/LifeCycle and supports HIV/AIDS treatment and research. 


Although the childhood friends now live on opposite sides of the country, they both credit their Island roots for inspiring the journey. 


“My mom always used to say, you have to do stuff that’s bigger than you,” says Yohannes. His mother Carolyn, a longtime Roosevelt Landings resident, passed away a few years ago. He recalls her work with the homeless at the Good Shepherd community center, as well as the many Island parents who volunteered as soccer and baseball coaches during his youth. “It’s the sense of community that I got from the Island that has informed the choices I make as an adult,” he says. “The people I grew up with, and the people who helped raise me on Roosevelt Island, will all be with me as we take this ride.


Felix Cardinal


Yohannes and Cardinal, both in their early 40s, have known each other so long, neither remembers exactly how and when they became friends. Yohannes believes they met when they were five or six, but Cardinal says the two became close in fifth grade while attending PS/IS 217. “I used to beat him in bicycle rides on the Island,” says Cardinal – a claim his friend absolutely rejects. “In any athletic competition we’ve ever had, my winning percentage averages around 81.5%,” retorts Yohannes. 


Fortunately for the friends, the AIDS/LifeCycle is billed as a ride, not a competitive race. The 550 miles are divided over seven days. At the end of each day, cyclists arrive at camp to eat, shower, and rest before riding out again the next morning. AIDS/LifeCycle is co-produced by its beneficiaries, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. 


Although both men are New York City Marathon veterans, they say training for the upcoming ride has been surprisingly challenging. 


“I was way more prepared for the marathon,” says Yohannes, “I had been running for three years. The bike is a whole different experience. You’re reliant upon the apparatus. It affects you differently than running does.” When asked what he feels most nervous about, he is only half joking when he indicates his butt. “They recommend this product called Butt Butter. Apparently I am going to have to apply liberal amounts of Butt Butter to survive the ride. It’s pretty daunting. I am nervous for sure.”


Miebaka Yohannes


Having to train separately has also been a challenge for the friends. 


“If Miebaka was over here, I’d be having a lot more fun with it,” admits Cardinal. “It’s been a little bit of a lonely pursuit in a way. We have been keeping track of each other’s training but that’s not the same as training together.” 


Yohannes, a Los Angeles resident, says he’s also been doing a lot of solo rides. His longest, 60 miles, took him along the ocean past Redondo Beach and up to Venice Beach. 


Cardinal, who lives in Rivercross with his wife and two kids, gets his miles in by biking along the West Side Highway and up the FDR. He says the recent weather hasn’t made training easy. “I’ve been jealous of Miebaka’s weather; he has nice weather all the time,” he grumbles good-naturedly. Still, the city’s bridges, including the Ed Koch 59th Street Bridge and the Triboro Bridge, provide good elevation training – one of the few advantages he can hold over his friend. “Southern California is very flat,” agrees Yohannes. “I haven’t been doing a lot of ascent rides.”


When Cardinal doesn’t have time for a longer ride, he does interval training on the Island near Cornell Tech. “Cycling on the Island has been good. There are a lot of cyclists that come here. I think the Island is somewhat on the radar for cycling. You don’t have to worry about the cars.” 


Unlike running the marathon, which is primarily a physical feat, they agree that having a cause attached to this challenge makes it special. 


The two made the plan to ride together after Yohannes learned about the ride from another guest, who works with the organization, at a wedding he attended. “I made a pledge to myself that I was going to do this,” says Yohannes. “Obviously, growing up in New York, we all know somebody, or many people, who have been affected by AIDS. It’s affected our community. So I feel like, for me, not only is it a physical challenge, it’s helping people who’ve been marginalized.” 


Cardinal agrees. “Personal pride is not that important to me. Before it was all about the ride. But now it’s about the cause. That’s been a transition for me. The AIDS crisis was the backdrop of my childhood, and it had a big impact on my life at an early age.”


They are looking forward to being part of a community of cyclists all riding for the same cause. “I hear the ride is a very joyous experience and people encourage each other,” says Cardinal. “There are so many volunteers who help out along the way. It’s a very community-oriented event that seems to get bigger every year.”  


“I am hoping to feed and thrive off of everybody’s energy and hopefully that will propel me” says Yohannes. “I’ve asked a lot of people to donate money. So it won’t just be me and Felix out there; it’s also these 60 people that have supported me.”


Cardinal agrees. “It’s such a hopeful thought that really inspires me, to be part of a movement to get rid of something like AIDS.” 


Anyone interested in donating to the ride can visit Cardinal’s fundraising page or Yohannes’ page .


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