From the San Francisco Bay to historic hills of Boston, seven individuals are cycling the country to raise awareness for AIDS.
The seven found themselves in Fallon on Wednesday at the home of Tom and Peggy Fleming. The Flemings are one of many host families throughout the country in support of Face AIDS, a San Francsico-based organization that teams with Partners In Health to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa.
The group of seven is also on a fundraising mission — to raise $100,000 as a team and at least $10,000 per person. Their next stops take the cyclists through Austin and Eureka before embarking on Utah and then the Rocky Mountains.
Making the more than 3,000 mile trek are Kate Pipa, who attends Northeastern University in Boston, Eric Steinbrook (Amherst College, Amherst, Mass.), Max Smith (recent University of Oregon graduate), Amanda Feairheller (Baldwin Wallace University, Berea, Ohio), Laura Karsin (graduate, Carleton College, Northfield, Minn.), Dana Ballard (McGill University, Montreal) and Lisa Fawcett (Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.).
“They (the Flemings) have been hosting for three years, so that’s how we found them,” Karson said.
The seven strangers, who applied and interviewed with Face AIDS to participate in the event, met in San Francisco last week for the first time. There, they underwent three days of training consisting of bicycle maintenance, road safety, heat management and more.
On Monday, however, the group was introduced to the Sierra Mountains and its dicey weather. Rain hammered the group, which was forced to take cover in its van.
“We were soaked through the core,” Smith added. “We had some serious rain. We were on some ridges … we got really cold. We’re prepared for summer.”
Despite the unseasonable rain, the group forged ahead and rode into Fallon. An average day consists of between 60 to 120 miles and typically ends with the group crashed out in a campground, church or recreation center. On their rest days, however, the seven take up residence with a host family.
Including rest days, the ride will take 63 days and the seven will ride into Boston on Aug. 23.
“We also reached out to previous riders and cycling clubs on our campuses,” Smith explained of the preparation.
The ride, though, is one of passion to bring awareness to the AIDS epidemic. Each one said the issue is one of importance and has not receded even with breakthroughs in treatments such as the AIDS cocktail.
Funds from the ride are distributed to Face AIDS and Partners In Health, which relay the money to Rwanda. Since the 1994 genocide in that country, aid workers have helped stabilized the country and taken a hard approach to battle AIDS.
Partners In Health established itself in Rwanda and has helped turn around the country’s treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, Feairheller said.
“They are all about mobilizing students,” Ballard said. “This is the sixth year this ride has happened. Each riders are supposed to raise a certain amount of money that goes toward ongoing HIV/AIDS projects, specifically in Rwanda. While the funds from our bike ride go toward Rwanda, we are raising awareness domestically.”
The goal, a lofty one, for Face AIDS is to end the AIDS epidemic within the group of seven’s lifetime.
“I think a lot of chose to do the ride because we saw all the problems with HIV,” Feairheller said. “I’m in the middle of college and don’t have a degree to help, but I can ride a bike and help raise awareness.”