Bikers prepare for AIDS Ride

Every week since the ice melted, University employee Lori Gilbertson has been training on her bicycle so she can ride 450 miles by the time July rolls around.
She and 1,700 others will ride in the Twin Cities-Chicago AIDS Ride, a six-day bicycle ride expected to raise almost $5 million for organizations that help people with AIDS.
Gilbertson rode 60 miles Saturday with a group of about 20 other people in western Wisconsin training for the event. One of the riders knew a man who died from complications of AIDS and was being buried that day. Before the cyclists began their ride, they took pause.
“We took our helmets off and stood there in silence for 15 to 20 seconds, and it really sort of hit home,” said Gilbertson, a staff member at the Dispute Resolution Center.
Some of the riders have HIV themselves, or have lost friends and family members to the virus. Some people, like Gilbertson, are riding just because they feel passionately about the issue.
“I’m riding for a lot of people I don’t know,” she said.
Each rider must raise at least $2,300 to participate. Proceeds from the event will go to organizations that care for AIDS patients in the Twin Cities and Chicago.
The ride is also meant to raise awareness about the disease, said David Meissner, a secretary in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature.
AIDS is “not a disease that’s going away,” Meissner said. “It just needs to be out in the light of day, and that’s something the AIDS Ride will do very well.”
The trip from Minneapolis to Chicago is one of five AIDS rides that will take place this summer around the country. Organizers estimate the five rides will raise about $24 million for people with AIDS.
After biking an average of 75 miles each day, riders will sleep in mobile tent cities that volunteers will set up for them.
Getting to know people who will make the ride and hearing their stories about why they decided to join the ride has been one of the best parts of training, Gilbertson said.
“I want to get out there and show that there are people who care,” Gilbertson said, “and we’re willing to go this far to show that.”
Gilbertson said riders are supported by thousands of sponsors. “That’s a huge part of why we’re able to do this,” she said.
Meissner said raising the money to participate and physically preparing for the ride seemed like an impossible task in January, before he started training.
“I might have made 10 miles on a bike before,” he said. “I would have lain down exhausted and needed help.”
With less than six weeks left to train, he goes on 70-mile rides on weekends and gets up early to ride before work. He has also raised more than $2,000 from friends, colleagues and businesses.
“The first reaction is, ‘There’s no way! I’ll pass out!'” Meissner said. “Then you realize you don’t have to do it all in one day and you don’t have to prepare for it all in one day.”
That realization, Meissner said, has changed his expectations about what people can accomplish. And it has changed the way he sees AIDS.
“There have been a lot of diseases and infections that have been ‘impossible’ in the past,” Meissner said. “But because there are some people who decide that’s not acceptable, then a cure becomes possible.”