Northeast AIDSRide 2001 journal


The Northeast AIDSRide was a 325 mile charity bicycle ride whose beneficiaries in Boston and NYC help support those living with HIV. In 2001, I participated in this ride and it changed my life. What follows is my account of the experience. Unfortunately, it is just not possible to capture what it is like to be a part of this event in words and images. It must be experienced.

You may want to read about why I ride before learning about this experience, but it's not necessary. I also have a video that was produced during he ride, if you happen to be local.

day zero - getting to Bear Mountain, NY

The sun hasn’t come up yet, but I was awake, frantically checking my bags to make sure I have everything I’d need for the next five days. I tried to take as little as possible, even though I didn’t have to carry it on my bike. I got it down to one medium sized shoulder bag, and I’m convinced that I must have forgotten something.

I took a bus from my house to Davis Square, and caught the train to the expo center on the other side of town. The train was sparsely populated that early in the day, and I could tell by their bike helmets and packs that most of them were heading to the same place I was. A few of us started talking to help keep each other awake and to dissipate the nervousness.

When we got there, at least 7 buses were waiting to take all the Boston area riders down to Bear Mountain. I looked on every bus for my friend Jeremy Goulder but couldn’t find him. We met up at a rest stop along the way. After a long bus ride, everyone on the bus started to stir. We had reached Bear Mountain. From the road we could see the back of the starting gate that we’d be riding through on the next morning.

This is the back of the starting gate as seen from the bus window as we drove in to Bear Mountain.

registration and logistics

There was a lot to do on Day Zero. First we had to sign in, make sure our medical papers were turned in, and then go to the pledge office line to turn in final pledges if our accounts weren’t at the minimum. This line wrapped around the park, Disney style, weaving back and forth. It took us about 4 hours to get to the front of the line.

The registration tents. The columns to the left were for writing dedications.

Thanks to everyone who so generously supported me for this ride, I had $3300 already in my account, well over the $2100 minimum. I also had another ~$1200 in checks that had not been deposited. So, while waiting in line for Jeremy G. to deposit his final funds, I distributed my remaining pledges to other riders who had not yet met their minimum pledges so that they could ride. So to all of you who donated, you have helped the beneficiaries and the people they care for, you helped me, and you may have also helped other riders who may not have been able to participate without your generosity. Thank you.

The line for the pledge office.

While I am very diligent about putting on sun block while riding, I had not put on any for Day Zero. By the end of the day, the back of my neck was starting to feel hot. To keep from making the burn worse than it was, I was standing facing the sun whenever possible, or I kept my hands on the back of my neck. Luckily, it was a very mild burn and didn’t affect the rest of the ride.

After our accounts were settled, we were off to watch the safety video, get our tent assignment, check out our bikes, and finally catch a bus back to our hotel.

2000 bikes waiting to go!

back at the hotel

When we reached our hotel, we spontaneously hooked up with about 7 other riders and ordered pizza for dinner. Eating in one of the rooms, it felt like a gathering of old friends who hadn’t seen each other for years, instead of a room of strangers who just met. This was very common on the ride. There is an openness and compassion between riders that is not seen in our day-to-day interactions with most people. This is one of the things that I miss most about the experience.

By the time we had eaten and gotten our gear ready for the next morning, it was almost midnight. We had to be up in 4 hours to shower and catch a bus to take us back to where the ride would begin. Needless to say, I did not have the energy to write in my journal that night, and all of this is from memory.

day one - up and out

The alarm went off at 3:30am and, reluctantly, I got up. I felt shaky and sick to my stomach as I sometimes do when I get that little sleep. I was also very nervous. Jeremy and I rushed and made the 3:50 shuttle back to Bear Mountain.

On the bus, most of us were trying to catch some final zz’s while we still could, but a few folks in the front of the bus started taking flash photos in the dark. This was a bit disturbing for those of us trying to sleep, but soon the flashes stopped and everyone was asleep.

It was still pitch black when we arrived at Bear Mountain, and there were huge floodlights illuminating the field like a stadium We took the gear that we would bring with us to our bikes and then dropped the rest off at truck J that would carry our luggage and tents for the next few days.

Breakfast was an assortment of fruits, juices, bagels, pastries, and other finger foods. While we ate, I was able to find some of the other people that I had trained a lot with, most importantly Derrick. Derrick came and gave two fundraising presentations at Sapient (where Jeremy G. and I worked) to help us raise money from our co-workers. He had been trained in how to give these presentations. Jeremy and I raised over $500 in the two sessions. They were tough because a lot of layoff rumors had been going around, and we didn’t get the turnout we had expected. We talked with Derrick and some of the other riders as the sun started to peak over the mountains.

Following a light stretch was a very moving opening ceremony. It began with a man carrying a large white flag through the crowd and giving a poetic monologue about strength through surrender. It was very Zen-like. After that an empty bike was led through the crowd to symbolize the riders who are no longer with us. Six men led the bike while a seventh carried a helmet. Some walked stoically forward. Others had stern faces with tears streaming down their cheeks, while one man cried openly, his face red, his sobs audible at quite a distance. After that, Dan Palotta, the founder of Palotta Teamworks, the group that runs the events, gave a moving speech. Then everyone rushed for their bike with great enthusiasm!

Everyone trying to get out at once.

Starting out was supposed to be a bit more organized, but everyone rushed out all at once. This made for a slow start as 2000 riders tried to get on the road at the same time. I think I spent a lot of time standing, but after about a half an hour of stop and go riding, we were spread out pretty quickly. The ride had begun!

Held up at the starting gate.

Jon and Derrick, both in yellow, waiting to roll.

along the way

Every 10-20 miles is a rest stop with food, Gatorade, water, ice, medical folks, bike technicians, and most importantly, port-o-pots! Volunteers, mostly from the beneficiary organizations, staff the food tables. Rest stops are a chance to cool-down, get some food, talk with other riders, and pee. The people staffing them try and keep things light by dressing in costume, usually drag. They are a lot of fun, and really help keep the spirits of the riders up during the ride.

Helloooooo nurse?

Derrick is threatened by a banana. l to r: cowgirl, me, Derrick, Jeremy G., cowgirl

The last rest stop on Day One was at Yale’s boathouse. While Jeremy Goulder and I didn’t ride together all the time, we had caught up with each other here. It was a hot day and many people took the opportunity to jump in and swim. Some people went in with their bike clothes on, and some didn’t. The water was very cool and felt great. I think it really helped relax my lower back, which was very sore.

Taking a dip after a long day.

The first day was ~85 miles and very hilly. My legs were very sore when we reached camp. After dropping our bikes in bike parking, where they were watched all the time, we found our truck, got our bags and tent, found our site, and made camp. Then it was off to the shower trucks, and then dinner! While there was entertainment, we were too tired and just went to bed. We still had three more days ahead of us.

Tent City

day two - up and at 'em

Day Two was a similar distance as Day One with even more hills! There was one hill that was about 6 miles long! Needless to say, when I lay down to write in my journal, I didn’t have the consciousness to write details, so, being a consultant after all, I wrote bullet points that I hoped would help me remember the details later.

It doesn’t really matter what time my alarm is set to go off, because there are people sleeping in the tents around me whose alarms are going off earlier. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because it helps me get up when I have to, but I do my best to ignore them until mine finally beeps. It’s 6am and a lot of folks are already up. Many of the tents have already been taken down and others are in the middle of breaking camp. However, there are still plenty of tents that are completely quiet.

The course opens at 6:30 and camp closes at 8:30. That gives riders a 2 hour window to leave camp. Jeremy and I were running kind of late and were among the last 150 riders to leave camp. We both rode really fast to try and make up some miles and get back in the middle of the pack.

Me and a guy with a video camera taped to his helmet. He was one of the people who had not met his fundraising minimum, and whom I gave money to.

Jeremy G. at a busy rest stop.

sharing stories

By lunchtime, I was tired and felt like I was dragging until leaving the rest stop after lunch. I’m not sure which one of us said what, but the following exchange was captured in my journal from that rest stop.

“Ready to go?”

“Well, if I can’t sleep here…”

We took it easy over the next 15 miles.

At about this time we met Lisa. She was a rider who was going at about the same pace as Jeremy and I. If I remember correctly, she was a rider with very little biking experience when she decided to do the ride. A close friend of hers, who had done the ride before and was a very strong cyclist, had been her coach. I remember that she said that he would ride next to her with his hand on her back as she struggled up tough hills.

Days before the ride, he had been in a car accident and was in critical condition. Now, in addition to her initial reasons for doing the ride, she was now doing it for her friend who was in the hospital, as if the energy she spent on the bike would help him recover. The three of us talked for many miles. Unfortunately, I never caught up with her again, but I hope that her friend made it.

There are a lot of strong emotions on the ride and every rider has a different reason for riding. Many riders wear pictures of lost friends, family members, or lovers. Others are in it for the physical challenge, and others just want to do a good thing. The reasons are as different as each rider.

In addition to the riders, there are a lot of people who come out to cheer riders along. At their houses, at intersections, or in parking lots along the route, people come to see us ride by. Some would cheer loudly, some had large coolers and their kids would hand us cups of water as we rode by, others had hoses or sprinklers to cool us down in the summer heat. There were also many like one woman who stood alone by the side of the road crying and holding a sign with a large picture of her son that said “(Her name), mother of (her son’s name, his birth and death years), THANKS YOU.”

the end of a tough day

By now, Jeremy Goulder’s knees and hands were in significant pain. I was feeling all right and felt a burst of energy. I took off for camp and got in line for a massage. At camp there were both massage therapists and chiropractors. The lines for the massage therapists were always really long. I knew that by the time Jeremy made it to camp, all the slots would be full. I sat there until he showed up and then gave him my space in line.

It hadn’t been a good day for Derrick either. He had four flats. That is very unusual. I was much luckier. The worst problem I had on the whole ride was squeaky pedals that I had to lubricate!

That night, I could hear the karaoke in the main tent, and I wondered how these people had the energy for that after a day of hard cycling.
There are some other notes in my journal that must have been funny, moving, or otherwise important, but their meaning is lost on me now.

Jeremy G. (center) arrives at a rest stop.


This guy, with biker boots, tight jeans, a feather boa, and a bullhorn, motivates riders up the hill.

One of the more scenic rest stops, nestled in the woods, and overflowing with bicycles.

day three - the longest haul

In many ways, even though today’s ride was a whopping106 miles, it was the easiest day. The first two had a lot of very difficult climbs, but this day was very flat. Even so, I was even more exhausted at the end than I had been on the previous two days, so there was no entry in my journal for me to translate. There are a number of things that stood out from this long day.

While there are some very experienced riders who finish the days ride in a matter of hours, I think that some of the best times come from taking your time and riding with the people who I have been training with over the past few months. While I was riding with two people, Neil and Sally, I was able lend a hand as well.
It was a very hot day, and although Sally had been on more training rides than most, the miles and the heat were getting to her and she wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to finish the day. She still had water, but was out of Gatorade. I was feeling ok, and gave her my remaining Gatorade. She said that it gave her the boost that she needed to make it that day.

Sara, one of the riders I met in the hotel on day zero, relaxes on the grass.

A guy in a speedo and a wig, hula-hooping in the hot sun. Am I seeing things? Incidentally, this guy is the team captain for those of us riding in the European AIDS Vaccine Ride 2002.

catching up with Bobby Mac

About 20 miles from the end of the day, I found Bobby Mac. Bobby Mac is a celebrity and a hero in his own right. As he tells it, he was a couch potato until one day when he rode a few miles on a bike. He says that he thought he was going to die, and that it hooked him on cycling. Now, he leads training rides in the Boston area to take inexperienced cyclists and turn them into AIDSRiders. In his mid-50’s, Bobby is much stronger than most cyclists half his age, but his concern is always for safety and educating new riders. As he says at every ride, “We ride with smiles on our faces, and love in our hearts ‘cause we’re AIDSRiders.” I had been riding on his training rides almost from the beginning of my training.

Well, for the last 20 miles or so of Day Three, I kept pace with Bobby Mac. That, or he was slowing down so I could keep up with him! Either way, Bobby and I finished Day Three together.

Another man in drag welcomes riders to a pit stop.

Innuendo at the water table. The signs on the tent say things like, "If you're HOT, come see Iceman," "The Iceman cometh, do you?" and "Be NICE to the waterboy. He's easy."


the cheering crowds

Camp that night was only 50 miles outside of Boston and a lot of people showed up to cheer on riders as they came in. The crowds stretched on for a few blocks. As a rider approached camp, I could hear the people farther away start to cheer. The volume increased until they reached the camp gates. For many riders, this was the longest distance they had gone in one day, as well as the most they'd done three days on end. Having such a large crowd there to cheer us on made it feel even more special.

After I parked my bike, I went back to take some pictures of people who I knew who were finishing after me, and to cheer on other riders. When I felt like I was about to collapse if I didn’t get anything to eat, I left the gate, got food, and a shower. Jeremy and I found that there was no line to see the chiropractors and we both got an adjustment. It felt great. With one more day left to go, we went to sleep.

Riders, crew, friends, family, and supporters lining the road by camp to cheer on riders.

Neil, in yellow, whom I rode many miles with in training and on the ride, arrives in camp.

His hands and knees in alot of pain, Jeremy G. rode every mile.

day four - pain

Everything hurts. My legs are really sore. My lower back hurts, My hands and wrists are in pain, and my butt and my seat are no longer friends. Having ridden almost 275 miles at this point, my body felt like it had had enough. Even though this day was significantly shorter than every other day, it felt very hard. Even small hills seemed to take an extreme effort to climb, and my pace for the day was much slower than on previous days.

That changed as soon as we entered Boston. It all of a sudden seemed almost unreal that I had cycled from NY back home. I couldn’t believe that the Boston skyline was really in front of me. We were almost finished.

The final miles were along the Charles River and into Government Center. There, all the riders gathered until everyone had finished. Then, donning red, long-sleeve AIDSRide shirts, we rode as one group to the closing ceremonies. I don’t know whose idea it was to have us wear long-sleeve shirts. They were ridiculously hot. It was a good thing I had soaked mine before we began the final mile.

This guy rode the entire fourth day wearing a Superman costume, complete with foam muscles

The lusty pilgrim. This is the same guy who had the hula-hoop. He insisted on being in front of the bike so that there would be "a little drumstick" in the shot.

30_d4_jerbike Me and my bike right before riding the final mile. Jeremy G's thumb makes a guest appearence on the right.

Jeremy G. shows that his hands still work. After this ride, he will ever after be known as "The Claw".
Riding the final mile together to the closing ceremony.

day four - the end of the road

Unfortunately, I don’t have much to say about the closing ceremony. I was so far away from the stage that I neither heard nor saw much of anything. It was a bit anti-climactic. And then it was over.

I didn’t want it to be over. I’d spent the last four days doing something to help people in my community. People helped each other, even when they didn’t know the other person. I knew that I could trust and depend on those around me. I didn’t want to leave that. So I’ve tried to bring that compassion with me every day, but it’s hard.

I took a cab home. For the first time in five days, I was alone. Sha was out of town on business and no one was around. It was strange. I’m not sure where I got the energy, but I did drive back downtown where a group of clubs, known as The Alley, was open only to AIDSRiders. It was one last chance to see many of the people I had ridden with and give my legs a little more exercise with some thumping bass.


I hardly moved for the next two days. This was probably the most demanding thing I had ever done, but it was also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far.

One of the unexpected challenges of the ride was the time that it took from other things, including spending time with my wife. The timing was unfortunate because she was also traveling a lot and was gone for many days at a time, including weekends. While I was training, we didn’t get to see a lot of each other. This was very difficult, and we agreed that we couldn’t spend that much time apart again. So Sharona agreed to ride with me the next year.

Now we are both training for the European Vaccine AIDSRide, a 575 mile ride over seven days from Amsterdam to Paris to raise money for vaccine research.