By Evan Bachner
My husband, Ed, and I have always been cyclists. I’m not a racer (Ed rides much faster than I do), and I’m not a top rider in any category – I’m just a civilian rider who’s always loved biking long distances. My love for cycling took on much greater significance in the mid-1990s when I realized it could be a tool to generate positive change during a very dark time. This was in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, and it started when I first came across an ad for what is now Cycle for the Cause. (Which Starts this Friday Sept 21st! -Ed.)
Since the early 1980’s, HIV/AIDS overshadowed everything I was involved in, everything I did. The LGBTQ community, particularly where I lived in New York, had long been fighting against the government’s indifference and the public’s aversion to even talking about the disease. As we moved into the ‘90s, thanks to intense activism, social stigma around AIDS finally began to wane – but the disease itself was still considered a death sentence. There was no cure (there is no cure), and the medications that make living with HIV a manageable condition were a couple of years in the future. When I learned about Cycle for the Cause, however, I had hope that the years that had filled up with protests, volunteer work, and watching my friends becoming sick and die could make room for something positive.
Cycle for the Cause is a 275-mile, three-day bike ride from Boston to New York City that raises money for the fight to end AIDS. It’s a project of NYC’s LGBT Community Center, and the funds raised during the Ride are what enables them to deliver HIV testing, prevention services, and access to treatment for so many people infected and affected by HIV.
Back when I saw that ad for the very first Ride in 1995, I was not only encouraged by its mission; I was also intrigued by the ambitious idea of a multi-day, hundreds-of-miles long biking event. As it turned out, Ed’s and my experience with long-distance riding was useful; there was no training program to prepare participants for such a long ride. So, we put one together from scratch. We started slow, because many participants, while galvanized by the cause, were not experienced cyclists. We began by guiding scores of riders on a 20-mile ride, then pushed them to do a little more, then a little more, and 10 weeks later we were riding 100 miles on a Saturday followed by 80 miles the next day. By our second year, we were leading over 100 people on the century training ride. We were ready.
Fast forward 23 years, and here I am preparing for another Cycle for the Cause this month. Now, I’m riding alongside most of my closest friends. These are people I’d never met prior to their first training rides, but a shared love for biking and a determination to end AIDS once and for all quickly drew us together. The most amazing thing to me is how deeply connected the whole ride community has always been. We don’t just ride to raise large amounts of money; we are all HIV/AIDS activists. Every one of us knows exactly what life-saving services we are helping to provide, with each mile we push through.
We’ve reached a time when HIV/AIDS testing and treatment is more accessible than ever before, but nobody’s job here is done. These days, people have a tendency to think the epidemic is over – it’s not. People are still getting infected, undergoing lifelong treatment with the potential for severe, long-term side effects and there is still no cure. While it’s easy to dwell on these realities, I’m grateful for the work that we’re able to do.
I’ve never lost that sense of freedom that you get from your first bike ride. Cycle for the Cause allows me to enjoy that sensation to its fullest, because it’s not just about how I feel when I’m on the bike – it’s about the thousands of people the ride benefits, those waiting for us around the next turn who cheer us on, and our loved ones who greet us at the end of the ride, all of whom have gotten a piece of their own freedom back, thanks to the Ride.Tweet Print