On a rare, fogless San Francisco morning at the end of June, the seven members of the Ride Against AIDS team dipped the rear tires of their bikes into the Pacific Ocean.
Now, 23 days later, the bike riders are nearly one third of the way along their 4,000-mile journey, pedaling their way through the Rocky Mountains. They made a two-day stop in Summit County Thursday and Saturday to rest a bit and take the chance to spread their message about HIV/AIDS.
The Ride Against AIDS team is sponsored by the FACE AIDS and Partners In Health organizations.
FACE AIDS is a youth-led non-profit working to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic by raising awareness and building a movement of youth leaders. The organization was started in 2005 by Stanford University students working in a Zambian refugee camp. Now it has established chapters at more than 230 colleges and high schools across the United States, more than 30 centers in the country of Rwanda and raised upwards of $2.5 million.
Partnering with FACE AIDS is Partners In Health, a Harvard affiliated NGO with a global reach, dedicated to bringing modern medicine to patients living in poverty with barriers to health care access.
Now in its sixth year, the Ride Against AIDS project sends a team of college-age youths biking from the FACE AIDS headquarters in San Francisco across the country to the Partners In Health headquarters in Boston. Along the way, the riders make stops in various communities to explain their mission and bring more awareness to the HIV/AIDS cause.
This year’s team consists of seven members, most of them in college or recently graduated. Hailing from all over the United States — California, Connecticut and New York, to name a few — they met each other for the first time three days before their trip began. While several have experience with bicycling, most said they were only casual bikers before the trip.
Still, they were drawn both to the cause and the physical challenge of traveling nearly 4,000 miles on two wheels and their own power.
“I’ve always been really into sports, so it seemed like an awesome way to spend my time and energy and money,” said team member Dana Ballard.
Team members brought their own touring bikes along for the journey, chosen because of the variability of the terrain they’d be crossing.
So far the ride has been going well, they said, coming together as a team and getting used to being in the saddle for seven to eight hours a day.
“It’s been really awesome to see the team grow and interact in various environments,” said member Maxwell Smith. “It’s something new every day.”
Since they’d only met a few days before, the riders have gotten to know each other along the way, sharing conversation — they often ride in pairs — and playing games as they pedal.
Having the support of team members has been key. Ballard recalled a particularly difficult morning of biking uphill in the rain.
“I probably would have gotten off my bike an hour and a half earlier if we hadn’t been chatting and playing games,” she said. “We were struggling.”
Yet despite these challenges, their biking skills have improved and they agree that their love of bike riding will endure long after the rip.
“I love biking more now than I did three weeks ago when we started,” said team member Amanda Feairheller.
In addition to team support, the Ride Against AIDS riders have been encouraged by the response they’ve gotten from individuals, groups and communities. As they make their way across the country, they will stop periodically to speak about their mission. During their stop in Summit County, they had a table near the Dillon Amphitheatre during the Friday-night concert.
“By biking across the country, we want to show other people who think they might not have any power to (make) any change, you can do tons of things,” said team member Eric Steinbrook. “You can do something that can make a huge impact.”
The team left Summit County early this morning, heading over Loveland Pass — the highest point of the trip — and on to Denver. Throughout the next several thousand miles, they expect to grow closer as a team and further spread their message to the country before their journey ends with dipping their front tires into the Atlantic Ocean.
For more information or to follow the Ride Against AIDS team blog, visit www.faceaids.org.