Blood, Sweat and Gears: A 4,000 Mile Bike Ride Raises AIDS Awareness
Another year, another group of maniacs pedaling 4,000 miles in the name of global health equity. For seven consecutive summers, a team of dedicated individuals has embarked on a grueling bike ride from California to Boston, raising AIDS awareness and helping fundraise for Partners In Health’s programs around the world. This year, seven riders—the first all-woman team—took part in the Ride Against AIDS, which started in the San Francisco Bay area, snaked over the Rockies, cut across the Great Plains, and ended in Boston Harbor last week. We’re delighted to work with such committed partners and fierce advocates. Below, each rider briefly reflects on the experience.
Hometown: Manhattan Beach, California
What was the most inspirational moment?
I can’t help but think that reaching Loveland pass was the most inspiring, in that it’s the first memory that comes to my mind. There’s something special about being surrounded by a team of people who have never ridden a road bike before, and had together climbed over 26,000 feet in elevation over 10 days to reach the peak of Loveland (11,990 feet above sea level). It was that moment where everyone realizes that even though they never dreamed of biking this far for a cause they believed in, they could now do anything. By summiting the continental divide, we had just accomplished the seemingly impossible. That moment was really empowering.
Hometown: Cypress, Texas
What was the most challenging moment of the ride?
The very beginning. The team had been together for 48 hours, and we were sent off into the unknown to ride 4,000 miles in 63 days. Biking through San Francisco, it finally became real and the fear set in. It taught me to take it one day at a time, one mile at a time, one pedal stroke at a time. If we put one foot in front of the other, eventually we will make it to the Atlantic. Just like with any action, the little moments with time finally come together and create an impact you can see and be proud of.
Hometown: West Windsor, New Jersey
Most inspirational moment?
A conversation we had in Grand Island, Nebraska, with an individual who had seen us stopped in a parking lot for lunch and was so impacted by the cause we were fighting for that he offered to get us dinner that night. As an HIV-positive individual and a fellow advocate, he impressed upon us the urgency and zeal with which HIV advocacy needs to continue, because only through perseverance can this disease and any associated stigma be defeated.
What resonated with me the most was when he quoted JFK’s famous call to action: “If not now, when? If not me, who?” We cannot afford to be silent bystanders or continue to simply complain about the world’s problems. We must take up arms and fight for the changes that we want to see in the world.
Hometown: Spring Lake, New Jersey
What was the most challenging moment?
There was a challenging moment that recurred throughout the summer, but each time it became easier and easier to overcome with the support of teammates. After biking for eight hours in the brutal desert heat or pedaling up mountains all day long, I found it hard to remain motivated, focused, and positive. However, all it took was a joke from one of my teammates, or a recollection of a conversation with someone who has a connection to HIV/AIDS and believes in the cause of global health equity. This helped me find the surge of power in my legs to keep pedaling up the mountains. I kept pedaling for the woman in a parking lot in Utah who lost her brother to AIDS and for the waitress who donated all of her weekend tip money to the Ride.
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
What was the most inspirational moment?
The most inspirational moment occurred in Meeker, Colorado, at Meeker Café. A woman in her mid-40s approached us and introduced herself. She worked as a waitress during the day and a bartender at night. She handed a $100 bill to us and explained that she had friends and family members that were and still are severely impacted by the HIV epidemic and was inspired by what we were doing. I personally knew how much it meant for her to hand us a $100 bill; it was basically her tip money for the whole day.
This moment revealed what the ride was about. As much as she touched our hearts, we were touching the hearts of those whose voices were and still are not heard. People forget how stigmatizing the HIV epidemic is because it is not talked about. Even though we do not realize this on a day-to-day basis, we have been acting as a beacon of hope for those whose voices have been drowned out. This moment affirmed my efforts and the reason why I was doing this ride in the first place.
Hometown: Nashua, New Hampshire
What was the biggest challenge?
The most challenging moment of the ride was right after we dipped our back tires into the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco. I had just spoken to my dad on the phone and hugged my mother goodbye, and in that moment realized the scale of the journey I was about to embark on. It was incredibly difficult at that point for me to trust in our preparations as a team and to believe that we could accomplish this huge task. I am so proud of our team in not only accomplishing this challenge, but supporting each other through every single mile.
What stands out from the ride?
I was one of three riders who had the opportunity to return to their hometown during the trip. In the weeks leading up to our arrival at my house, I was excited to see family and friends, host events in familiar places, and reach my community with the story of the Ride and my inspiration for joining it. What I had not anticipated was the challenge of leaving home, leaving comfort and stability, and heading back out on the road at a point where we still had several weeks of riding ahead of us. While we did face physical challenges, such as the terrain and weather, it was the feeling of comfort that was most difficult to overcome.
I think this pairs well with the spirit of the Ride, to engage communities in conversations about the topic of HIV/AIDS and health equity where it may be outside their zone of familiarity. We can be educated, donate money, and support friends, but until we take a step toward action outside the boundaries of our current situation, there is no possibility for movement toward action.