We did it! Hundred miles around serene Cayuga lake to raise awareness of AIDS and to raise funds for Southern Tier AIDS Program for continued prevention and support services. It was a wonderful ride.
I woke up at five on Saturday morning and zipped down Buffalo Street after a quick breakfast, my little LEDs shining in the dark and scaring a skunk who was puttering around minding its own business. Arrived to Stewart Park to wait for the ride to begin as the sky lightened, met friends with whom I’d be sharing the road. Watched more than 350 riders gather together. Before we were sent off, we were touchingly reminded of the purpose of the AIDS Ride for Life – the stories yet to be told, the lives yet to be saved, and the dreams yet to be realized.
Can’t quite describe the feelings I had at that moment. I think it was a mixture of sadness, joy and anticipation. I thought of Freddie Mercury and the songs he still kept on recording just days before his death. I thought of the book “Wisdom of Whores” I read last year, the theoretical ease and the practical difficulties of preventing HIV infections. I looked at people around me and I was glad to be one of them. They all cared.
And then we started riding and I came back to the present moment and just enjoyed the cool morning air and the determined pedaling. I had tested the waters one week earlier on a 57-mile ride to Aurora and back, so I knew that the first hills would be steep and long, but not too bad. Pretty soon (well, after 1,5 hours) we were at King Ferry Winery, the first pit stop at 18-mile mark. Munched some protein-filled oatmeal with nuts and pumpkin seeds, filled my water bottle, chatted with friends, and soon we took off again.
Weather was absolutely perfect, half-cloudy, not too hot, not too cold. We sped past the second pit stop thinking that we would easily make it to the opposite end of the lake before having to stop. This theory would have held if I hadn’t started losing air from my backtire around 40-mile mark. It wasn’t a flat, but definitely a little bit of leakage was happening. Since it was less than ten miles to Verdi Signs pit stop, I wanted just to go as far as I could, and change the tube there with proper tools. (I had a spare tube and tire levers with me, but I had forgotten a wrench! My bike’s old-fashioned, it has real bolts to keep the tires on.) Well, had to stop to pump more air in a couple of times, but arrived to Verdi Signs without losing too much time on the way. And besides, it’s a ride, not a race.
Thanks to the repair crew, I soon had a new tube in and full of air. We continued through a lovely drumlin area and reached Seneca Falls after noon, having ridden 60 miles. I wasn’t feeling too tired, but definitely hungry. Enjoyed a good lunch with the team and got back on the bikes.
The 40 miles that we had left went by surprisingly fast. The wind that had been against us during the first half of the journey was now on our side (or, behind our backs). What’s more, the lovely volunteers had written and drawn encouraging messages on the road shoulder. We stopped once to fill our bottles and grab a handful of grapes before the last leg. Having eaten tons during the day, I actually felt quite energetic as we approached Ithaca. Crossing the finish line at Cass Park was awesome: a big crowd of people was there waving, cheering and applauding. Then we just relaxed and basked in the afternoon sun. After five we gathered for the victory ride through downtown to Stewart Park, where we had a nice dinner and celebrated the accomplishments.
The ride raised over $216,000. It’s an incredible sum and will go to a great cause. What’s more, the effect on raising AIDS awareness and strengthening people’s self-confidence goes even longer way. For me, 80 miles was the longest distance I’ve biked before this. It was wonderful to see that I could do it, and I didn’t even feel sore afterwards! And it was wonderful to see other people feel the same awe about themselves. Plus all the wonderful volunteers who took care of feeding and hydrating us and keeping us safe and smiling.
One girl actually rode a penny-farthing for 50 miles. Now, that’s a really amazing achievement!
The AIDS Ride is not a unique fundraising effort here, although it’s perhaps the largest event in terms of duration and organizing. There’s something going on almost every weekend. For example, in August, women swam one mile across Cayuga Lake to raise funds for hospice care. Tomorrow, there’s a Food Justice Summit walkathon (5 miles) with the aim to build a sustainable food system. Community is activated to do good voluntarily, and have fun and be physically active at the same time.
We have similar things in Finland too, but somehow I’ve never managed to hear of them, and I think they tend to be smaller scale. For example, there was a “Kävele naiselle ammatti” (“walk an occupation for a woman”) event in Tampere two weeks ago. Perhaps Pirkan Kierros could be re-focused as a charity event? (Could be that some of the money is already being donated somewhere, but if that’s the case, they’re not really advertising it.) Let me know which events you know of!
So now I’m listening to Queen’s last album, Made in Heaven, and thinking how people in welfare nations are more likely to engage in voluntary work, because they are safe and secure and can spare their time and resources on helping others. When a mind is not occupied with basic survival, it can reach out to the world and respect every life as valuable.
This year has been one hell of a ride so far. Ups and downs, but much more ups than downs. It’s a beautiful world that we have, and beautiful people in it. Let’s strive to make it even better.