“At its core, Ride for AIDS Chicago raises as incredible amount of money. Those funds help insure that vital HIV support services remain available to the city’s most vulnerable population. However, what makes the Ride for AIDS Chicago so magical is that the ride inspires, galvanizes, and coalesces people of all ages, and all walks of life and creates this incredibly rich community of like-minded people who are committed to something outside of themselves. It is a joy to watch, and honor to help facilitate”.
For me – it has always been about the ride and the ride has been about many things. The freedom of time alone on the open road on my Harley – thoughts running wild through my untamed mind and destinations unknown. The strangers encountered and the friends made – a culture of open minded acceptance and independent opportunity. The ride has always been about me – my life – my time – my heart – my space.
On the weekend of July 13th and 14th everything changed and the ride became something bigger. The ride took on a whole new meaning that encompassed parameters more far reaching than any simple story will ever be able to convey. My ride became a shared and supportive experience – it became about everything but me – and yet in the end – it transformed me – literally changed me from the inside out.
The Ride for Aides was a journey of committed men and women who saddled up and rode their bicycles from Evanston and headed north past Lake Geneva on a 200 mile/ 2 day pilgrimage. Peddling towards the ever elusive horizon and raising awareness about a disease whose stigma and history in this country is ever changing – but most certainly not changing fast enough. In the end, these road warriors raised upwards of $750,000.00 for TPAN in the memory of loved ones lost and in the honor of the living who struggle with HIV/AIDS each and every day of their lives forever more…..
There were riders from every walk of life with stories from every corner of the heart. And although when I started my weekend volunteering on the moto safety crew I did not have a personal connection to anyone affected by HIV/AIDS – by the end of the opening ceremonies there is no doubt in my mind that this has all became very personal to me. Our motorcycles effortlessly cruised through the streets, monitoring the riders for any signs of distress. We honked our horns and threw thumbs up and cheered these amazing individuals as they pushed onward through the excruciating heat and hilly terrain. These people were heroes – they were really, and very suddenly, to me – amazing heroes.
I asked some of the participants to share their stories – to tell me why they were riding in this particular event and the words shared moved and inspired me further. I want to share some words from a couple of the riders I met:
Kelly Southard: “This was one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I’ve ever done. What an amazing group to be surrounded by. I spend a lot of time reflecting on life and what/how I feel about various things and what I want to change. At times I channeled song lyrics and friend’s voices. At my hardest moments I thought of my cousin. I ride to honor his memory (he lost his AIDS battle in 1995). He used to coach crew and I imagined him yelling at me when I needed it to get up some of the hills.”
Patty Pedroza: “This past weekend I rode in the 10th RFAC ride in memory of my brother Jess. Forthe longest time there were five words that were just hard for me to accept. Easy to say – hard to accept….’My brother dies of AIDS’. He was the most inspirational person in my life. He gave me my music, my humor, and so much more. No one knew he was even sick. He kept this secret to himself for the same reasons that so many still do. I asked him why he never got tested…why he never told me/us…why he kept it to himself and he said something that I think about to this day. He said, “I was afraid”. He was afraid of losing everyone in his life. The stigma of AIDS haunted him and kept him from telling anyone. I cried about that for years. I wondered for many years if he would still be around if he had trusted his family enough to let us know. He died on December 29, 2002 just 11 days after being admitted to the hospital. We were all there when he died and told him we loved him as he took his last breath. I rode not just for him but for everyone who still feels the stigma connected to this disease. I wore his ring around my neck so he would be with me. On the second day of the ride, when I needed inspiration, I touched it. Jess was an inspiration to me and I know his story is not uncommon. I had open heart surgery in May 2012 but that is nothing compared to the courage my brother displayed his last few days.”
There were medals for those who crossed the finish line in Evanston on the second day. There were accolades and cheers, family and friends hugging and celebrating, laughing, crying and remembering all together at the end of 200 miles. 200 miles of life, laughter, blood, sweat, tears, joy, agony, partnership, togetherness, support, blisters, mosquitoes, monkeys, bananas, Oreos, Gatorade, green shirts, blue shirts, read shirts crew shirts…..200 miles of a world I want to live in every day – a world where people give a shit about each other – where we cheer for the underdog – where we eat with strangers and hold up a friend who can no longer stand. A world where we are all on the same page – doing good things just for the sake of doing good things – coming together for a common cause and making sure each and every individual is supported and loved. 200 miles of selflessness. 200 miles of genuine no holds barred I will give you the monkey off my jeep kind of love…..
In a strange and brilliant way – I look forward to the possibilities the untraveled road, shared with generous strangers will bring to my amazing life. I will be there next year. I will bring some friends and they will tell some friends and we will keep the momentum going. I will ride my Harley with humility and deliberate intention to support those heroes on the bikes and help bring continued awareness to this cause. I will ride until we no longer need to ride.
**GET INVOLVED – YOU WON’T BE SORRY!!
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About K. Guzman
Kathy grew up all over the US - lots of east coast time. She is a surfer girl with an unabridged curiosity. A woman whose mid life awakening continues to bring her to the place she was meant to be. Her degree in Journalism/Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida is being yanked from the archives and put to good use. Her two kids are grown and rock stars in this wild world – her Harley is ready for some serious summer miles – and her heart remains open to life, women and the possibilities each day brings.