Riding for Hope: Local riders bike in Montana for AIDS vaccines
In the last 19 years, AIDS has killed over 430,400 people in the United States alone, and 18.8 million people worldwide.
This is the sobering reality that Truckee psychotherapist Barbara Kramen-Kahn and her husband David witnessed on a recent trip to Africa, where Kramen-Kahn saw babies and elderly alike suffering from the crippling disease.
“I realized that this is a worldwide epidemic that we can all work toward curing and not a disease that we can just ignore because it is happening on another continent far away,” said Kramen-Kahn.
Returning from her trip, Barbara learned of Pallotta Teamworks AIDS Vaccine Rides, which are held three times annually to raise money for AIDS vaccines. These rides, however, are not just an ordinary fundraiser where people gather together for a worthy cause and get some exercise as an added bonus.
Kramen-Kahn’s sights were set on the Montana ride – a 575 mile trek across Montana in temperatures ranging from 30 to 110 degrees, and across passes vulnerable to every weather condition imaginable.
A recreational rider, Barbara posed the challenge to Sherilyn Laughlin, a local small business banker who also enjoyed the release of hopping on a road bike at the end of a long day.
“This is something I can do,” said Laughlin, though she later had second thoughts as the departure date loomed closer.
“How do you train for such a task?” the women were asked repeatedly.
“We just looked at it as one day at a time, otherwise the idea of riding over 500 miles would be too overwhelming,” answered Laughlin.
After months of training on their bikes, snow shoeing and riding at the gym during the long winter months, Kramen-Kahn and Laughlin began the long drive to Missoula to join 1,025 riders and 325 crew members for the longest ride of their lives.
Day one commenced on July 30 with an 80 mile ride northeast from Missoula to the town of Lincoln. Despite the constant drizzle, the two women were in high spirits as they caught their first glimpses of the “tent city” that would be their home for the next week.
The camp, equipped with shower tents, food service areas, entertainment space and nylon peaks to house the traveling squadron of 1,400 riders and volunteers, was a welcoming sight for the tired athletes.
Day two was only 57 miles in length, but climbed significantly to cross the Continental Divide at the top of Flesher Pass. Though Kramen-Kahn and Laughlin were well equipped with Gortex clothing and supplies for every situation, the pouring rain and 37 degree temperatures made the ride an extremely taxing one.
“I had never even ridden in the rain before, never mind conditions of this caliber. Although it was the hardest thing I have ever done, I kept thinking about how many people were counting on me and supporting me, and knew that I had to keep going,” said Kramen-Kahn.
The next five days brought moments of calm and exhilaration as well as hours of soreness and exhaustion for the two women, yet they pedaled on throughout the entire 575 miles. Passing through towns with such a large contingent drew huge crowds of supporters, cheering on the riders when they desperately needed encouragement.
An electrical storm and 80 mile per hour winds forced several camp evacuations, moving the band of two wheelers to alternative sites like a high school in the small town of Livingston.
Sherilyn and Barbara remember this night fondly.
“We walked into town to eat dinner and the entire place had been taken over by our group of riders and support crew. Everywhere we looked, there were signs in the windows that said ‘no more food’ or ‘closed, out of ice cream’ – we had completely cleaned out everything,” laughed Laughlin.
Laughlin’s flat tire on the first day was the only major obstacle the ladies encountered, but that was not the only unplanned aspect of the trip.
The two witnessed more giving and kindness during their seven days on the road than either had ever known before. Riders that finished the day early would ignore their exhaustion and spend hours erecting tents for others who came in hours later. Packs of athletes stopped at the top of tough hills to offer words of encouragement to those behind them, and everyone maintained an air of togetherness the entire trip.
“The greatest lesson I learned was that with so many people encouraging you and supporting you, you can do anything. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we could apply that to our everyday lives? Imagine the things we could accomplish,” said Kramen-Kahn.
Kramen-Kahn and Laughlin were not sure what to expect joining an AIDS ride, but found the most diverse group of people that could ever gather in one place. From the 17-year-old rider to the Positive Peddlers (a group of HIV positive riders on the trip) to the couple on a tandem bike who had never ridden more than a few miles together; each person had their own story.
Riders from all over the world, of all ages and ability levels, those with HIV or loved ones with the disease and those who simply wanted to make a difference were united with the goal of reaching the finish line and furthering AIDS vaccine research.
Last year was the first year that Pallotta Teamworks offered a ride strictly for AIDS vaccine research. The funds generated from the 2000 rides have enabled the UCLA medical research team to begin human trials this year for new vaccines.
Through the generosity of local businesses and individuals, Kramen-Kahn and Laughlin were able to raise $16,000 in the Truckee community to add to the funds raised by the other 1,023 riders on the trip. This money will go directly to funding vaccine research at research centers across the country.
“This is a disease that my children will unfortunately have to face everyday, that is why I did the ride. The only solution is vaccines and these events and the money they raise will bring us one step closer to finding a solution,” said Laughlin.
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