AIDS riders return to U

by Michelle Kibiger

Lori Gilbertson returned to her job at the University’s Student Dispute Resolution Center on Tuesday, but her mind was still on the 450-mile bicycle trip she made as part of the Twin Cities to Chicago AIDS Ride.
Although the six-day ride was grueling at times, Gilbertson had nothing but good things to say about the experience.
Bikers traveled 50 to 100 miles each day despite 90-degree heat. Cyclists and volunteers slept in densely packed camps, protected from the elements only by tents.
The 1,700 cyclists raised nearly $5 million for AIDS-related causes. Each cyclist had to raise at least $2,300, but some raised as much as $5,000.
The main purpose of the event was to raise money, but cyclists and volunteers also found significance in educating people along the route about AIDS issues.
“We’re 15 years into this epidemic,” said ride participant Beth Zemsky, program director for the University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Program Office. “I needed to do something to draw attention to it.”
Many of the riders participated to commemorate the lives of friends and family members who have died or are currently suffering from AIDS. Others, like David Meissner, senior secretary for the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, rode to raise money for organizations often overlooked.
Most people believe money should be given to research to stop the disease, Meissner said. “But there are persons living with AIDS who need our help. This is necessary to show support for persons with AIDS and do something about it.”
Seven Twin Cities groups that provide care for AIDS patients or education about AIDS issues received money raised by the ride. Similar organizations in Chicago also received money from the ride.
While riding through the towns in Wisconsin, participants were able to interact with residents and share experiences. Many people came to the route and yelled encouragement to riders or stopped them and shared stories of loved ones lost.
Participants said a collective community of support and encouragement was created along the route. “In fact, we all pedaled together and we all got there,” Meissner said.
Gilbertson said that even when times were tough, cyclists remained upbeat. “Everyone had a great attitude about it.”
Cyclists trained for several months to prepare for the journey. Although they said the training helped get them through, they could not have predicted how the ride would affect them physically.
“I trained heavily for it,” Gilbertson said, “but still there’s nothing like the actual experience of wearing your body down for six days.”
Meissner said when it seemed like he couldn’t continue, he remembered people who struggle and struggled with AIDS. “The little bit of pain or few miles left were so insignificant that it didn’t amount to anything.”
The Twin Cities to Chicago AIDS Ride was sponsored by Tanqueray, a manufacturer of alcoholic beverages. It is one of five rides to raise money for AIDS causes around the country. Rides have also taken place along Florida, California and Boston-to-New York routes. A Philadelphia to Washington ride is planned.