Windy City Times
July 13, 2011
By Ross Forman

It was the final five minutes of the two-day Ride For AIDS Chicago (RFAC) on July 10 that stands out most to rider Jason Hess, riding in his second RFAC as part of Team Shaine, a group of about 40 riders all of whom ride at different paces during the 200-mile journey, and were thus pretty spread out—except at the end.

"We lined up single file and rode in together as a team," Hess said. "Team Shaine is a team of proud, successful, loving, generous, caring, supportive individuals who are inspired for good. It is an honor to be a Shaine-mate."

Team Shaine raised $67,672.

In total, the 2011 RFAC raised about $504,000 for the Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN)—up from $295,000 last year.

"My favorite memory of the 2011 RFAC would be the entire thing," Hess said. "The fundraising, the team dinners, meeting new people as you discuss which anti-chafing cream you use, relaxing in the lake after riding 100 miles, the smiling faces of strangers who have been brought together to make a difference."

Hess, 33, also has participated in the 2008 SMART Ride in Florida.

"The ride this year was amazing," Hess said. "I met great people, shared the experience with many of my friends and played a part in raising $67,672 as a member of Team Shaine. I wish that more people would challenge themselves and participate in something like RFAC just so they could feel the gratification I feel right now."

He also felt a bit of pain afterward. "The hills are, hands down, the most challenging part of the ride," Hess said. "I must confess, sometimes I walk up them.

"For me, every Ride gets easier and each Ride is special to me for a different reason. Participating in long distance rides like RFAC allows me to not only raise money for an amazing cause, but also have a mental mind purge. Riding a bike for 200 miles gives you a lot of time to think."

Darryn Dunbar, of Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center and DePaul University's Department of Nursing, said the ride was, for the most part, injury-free.

"Fortunately, aside from one cyclist who was forced off-road by a clueless motorist, the nearly 300 participants in the ride For AIDS Chicago completed the 200-mile journey free of major injuries," Dunbar said. "The six-person medical crew (two physicians, two nurse practitioners, an EMT and a medical student) treated minor injuries common to a 200-mile bike ride on a hot summer weekend: fatigue, dehydration, minor lacerations, abrasions and the like. The riders were amazing, taking the hills, heat and humidity like champs."

Sean Blay was one of four riders sporting an orange flag on his bike throughout the ride, symbolizing that he is HIV-positive. He was emotional throughout, beyond tired afterward, but overloaded with joy—and already excited to ride again in 2012.

"It was a great experience, but also the hardest thing I've ever done," Blay said. "The hills were hard, very hard. But, on every hill, I thought about a time in my life when I had to conquer something, which made the ride a spiritual event.

"There were so many memories and experiences from the ride that stand out. It truly was a journey of a lifetime."

TPAN's Richard Cordova, 33, involved in his fourth RFAC, said the event was, without question, a success—and not just financially.

"The best part about the ride was hearing the riders say how great it was and how well they thought it was organized," Cordova said. "On [Saturday], our ice delivery never came. It threw our whole schedule off. We also had someone run off the road by a car. Overall, though, I think it went well.

"The route was the same as last year; there was a good 15 miles of hills in Wisconsin that really gave the riders a run for their money.

"On both days, I was there as the last rider crossed the finish line. Knowing that you helped all of those people have that experience is pretty amazing."

There were 299 riders this year—up from 225 in 2010.

The top team on this year's RFAC was Richard's Riders, a 66-member group that raised just under $110,000.

The top overall fundraiser was James Sumers, who raised $15,815.

"At closing ceremonies, I was talking to a rider about the ride and about the physical challenge of the ride. He said, 'At one point, I was really struggling on the hills, and I saw a rider with an orange flag; it made me realize why I was here, and I got through it,'" Cordova said. "Hearing that [story] made me feel really good about introducing the orange flags to the ride for AIDS Chicago."

Austin Baidas, who lives in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, participated in the RFAC for the second time and this was his fifth fund-raising bicycle ride. He is the associate director (office of management and budget) for Gov. Quinn and was part of the 15-member Election Cycle, which also featured Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.

"One of the reasons it's important to do the RFAC is, AIDS has been around for 30 years and we can't forget to work hard constantly to help find a cure," Baidas said. "There are a lot of people living in our community with HIV-AIDS. The ride is a great way to build awareness.

"This year's ride was really good."

It was also emotional for Baidas.

There was the time he spent talking with a female rider who was about 50. She said she was riding in honor or her brother who died five years ago from AIDS.

"That was a very touching story, one of many," Baidas said.

"It was an honor to ride alongside Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon and her husband. They are great, fantastic riders. Plus, it's cool to know that elected officials care about this issue. It's very cool that she rode her bike for the cause; she didn't just give a speech about the disease."

Brian Harder, 46, also completed his second RFAC—and it was the ending that he too cherished most.

"During the two days and 200 miles, most thoughts and emotions go into the next hill—[until] we arrive at the next pit stop, and how much your ass hurts," he said. "But at the very end, when you ride into a cheering crowd and all your reasons for doing the ride in the first place become crystal clear and realized, that's when the joy of finishing and the sense of accomplishment come bubbling to the surface. That's when the ride becomes a success and all worthwhile. That was my favorite moment."

The most challenging part of the ride for Harder, and most, was the hills.

"There are a set of hills after the last pit stop that are tough to climb, but provide a great decent a few miles outside of camp," Harder said. "It is these same hills that we have to climb on Sunday when we leave camp and before we even get to our first pit stop. Hills take the life right out of you.

"This was my second Ride, so comparatively, I'd have to say I knew what to expect, but there are always new experiences to deal with. This year we had a huge increase in the number of riders. This poses some interesting challenges because with increased riders, comes increased and decreased skill levels. So there were more fast riders and more slow riders. This causes a greater gap in the ride which can cause a lot of logistical challenges for crew and for riders who want to finish with a team."

Harder rode as part of Team Shaine.

Jeremiah Miles, 30, was involved in his second RFAC, but he fractured his elbow seven days before the ride, so he ultimately was off his bike for the 200-mile adventure.

"The best part, by far, was the training," Miles said. "Each week, new faces joined us and the challenge increased. I stepped up and became a leader. We were all in it together and week after week, we succeeded. We were going to slap the 200 miles right in the face ... and then it backhanded me.

"I endured the most uneventful bike fall ever. There was no scratch, no blood, and minimal swelling.

"Right now, after the ride, I am very torn. Unfortunately, the thing I will remember most about this year is being heartbroken about the experience. I watched while the riders checked in at each pit stop and finally at the end. That was supposed to be me with them. Mostly, I'm heartbroken because it's all over and I didn't get to finish.

"My injury did let me see the event from a new perspective. Driving a car along the route with the riders, I saw them struggle, I witnessed their pain, but I helped push them forward.

"For the group, I am very proud. For myself, I won't get closure or be satisfied until I deliver the 2012 Ride a very rude awakening."

Registration for the 2012 Ride for AIDS Chicago will start in December.