The Braking AIDS ride is a 3 day, 285 mile bike ride from Boston to New York City benefiting HIV/AIDS services. This three day event unites our community in a common effort to raise much needed funds for HIV/AIDS research, education, advocacy, and client services. Every year, the funds raised assist Housing Works, Inc in their relentless advocacy, life saving services, and entrepreneurial businesses. Braking AIDS is just one step closer to connecting those in need to services that will provide a lifetime of care.
Thinking of completing the ride next year?
Check out a daily diary below of our co-founder Amber's experience as she took on 285 miles for the first time.
I elected to take the shuttle service from NYC to Boston, and realized that in my haste I had forgotten my lunch and snacks, prepping myself for the four hour ride with only a tummy full of banana pancakes. I arrive to Boston famished, with my friend Lauren, to a cheering squad of Braking AIDS crew members all singing and shouting directions for luggage drop off and registration. Crowding into the small upper room of a community center, I am surprised to run into former co-workers, case management clients, and friends I haven't seen in over four years- all here to ride and volunteer for the cause.
Lauren and I settle in for the safety demonstration, instructions for completing our registration, and the route for tomorrow's ride. We are shown a topography map that scares the bejesus out of me and convinces me that the laps around Central Park and the mileage gained biking up route 9W in New Jersey have me ill-prepared. I try not to psych myself out and once I am awarded a registration completion smiley face, I yelp the nearest food destination and make a mad dash. Food in hand, we hop in the last crew van and are off to the host hotel to rest for tomorrow.
The nervous and excited energy coursing through my body allotted me a light, intermittent three hours of sleep. My alarm was set for 4:15AM, but my eyes had been open since about 3:30- such a great start!
I had not yet completed a century ride up until this point, and the thought of 103 miles lay daunting in the back of my mind. I drag myself out of bed, stretch, lube my lower half with butt butter, don my finest spandex apparel, and pile into a school bus to go have breakfast and attend the opening ceremony.
Cycling teams adorned in matching jerseys for opening day- St. Bart's, The Flying Goats, Kings of the Road, The Honey Badgers, and more- all showcase the unity created by the ride. Breakfast and the bathroom lines provide ample time for meeting other folks invested in bringing an end to AIDS, while crew members fill water and Gatorade bottles to ensure adequate hydration. A rousing opening speech by Housing Works CEO, Charles King, touches us to our core while we wave handmade remembrance flags for those that we have loved and lost to the disease. At 6:45AM, we mount our two wheeled steeds and are off to face the first 103 miles.
Adrenaline pumping, Lauren and I decide that we will skip the first oasis stop (provided every 10-15 miles along the course where we can hydrate, snack, socialize, rest and use the bathroom) starting our day with a nice 25 mile ride. Within the first two miles, I realize I am not able to downshift and with my bike key sitting lovingly in my luggage on the way to the hotel, I am unable to fix it. A fellow rider and bike tech crew member, rolls by and lets me know that my derailer has been screwed in too tight. She loosens it for me and we're back on the road. Entering one of the first hills of the ride, my chain slips. A fellow rider senses my frustration and offers to help me fix it. Lauren and her legs of steel are up and over the hill, along with most of the other riders. Getting a little anxious about being in the back of the pack, I hop back on my bike determined to get to oasis 2 as soon as possible.
Riding through the beautiful New England scenery while working to increase visibility around HIV stigma has me feeling light and airy. That is, of course, until I begin to feel the familiar road bump of a flat tire. Really? Something else already? Today is just not my day.
My CO2 cartridge is in Lauren's saddle bag and she has been out of sight for over six miles. Honey Badger member Brigid pulls up, followed closely by a sweeper van (vans that routinely ride the course assisting riders, "sweeping" them to the next oasis when needed). Brigid gives me a CO2 pump, and we're back on the road.
Following the yellow arrows to the next oasis I arrive just in time to hear they are closing- ahhh! Rushing to the bathroom and filling my water bottles, I decline to be swept by the van and maintain my determination to ride every single mile. I told myself I would try as hard as I could, only taking a ride if I was injured.
Passing the mile 40 marker in a residential neighborhood I am feeling positive in my progress and have used the quiet ride to clear my mind (long silent rides are the best kind of therapy, I'm convinced). Suddenly, I hear the grind of my tire against some loose gravel, my handlebars veer sharply and I feel my body take flight. I am airborne- thrown over my handlebars and slowly watching the pavement approach. On my way down, I promise the Universe that if she spared my head, she could have my arms, and I relax my body to prepare for impact. A USPS worker sees the whole ordeal and rushes to my side, while screaming a panicked barrage of questions at me- "Are you okay? Did you hit your head? I can't believe it!- should I call EMS?" As I army crawled out of the street, all I could muster up was- "In shock. On a ride. Help coming." An EMS moto crew (volunteer crew on motorcycles) pulls up, followed closely by a sweeper van. They held my hand and made me laugh then wrapped me in ice packs, gave me Ibuprofen and snacks and shuttled me off to be cleared by the medical team.
At lunch, I was cleared to ride. Hopped up on caffeine and ibuprofen, I felt no pain and was back at it. Being swept had put me in the middle of the pack, so I took my time riding. Continuing through New England and into Connecticut, I counted the ten mile markers, excitedly awaiting to reach mile 90. As rider number 90, I made sure to take a picture with the sign each day as a marker of triumph.
I had done it! 90 miles down and thirteen to go- piece of cake, right? At the last oasis I hurriedly jumped back on my bike, ready to get to the hotel to unwind. Passing moto crew, I learn I have about five miles to go- and I can't wait. After riding alone for a bit, I begin to realize that I hadn't seen a direction sign in a while. I pull up to an intersection and notice that the usual yellow arrows were not present. I pull out my route cues to determine my location. None of the streets around me are on the paper and the sun is starting to set so I grab my phone to google map directions to the hotel. Within seconds, the app drops my battery from 20% to 6% and panic starts to set in- I'm lost. I retrace my steps and can not find any of the listed streets- where did I go wrong? I turn my phone off to use only in the utmost emergency to call dispatch and begin circling the last mile I traveled. I begin to ask residents for Hickory St and am given six different sets of directions to get to my destination. I decide to trust my instinctand ride back until I see a yellow sign or find Hickory St. I'm choking back tears and panic as the sun settles behind the trees and finally- Hickory St! The yellow sign was missing, so I had missed the turn and had ended up about two miles off the route. I muster all of my strength and hall-ass through the final three miles of the route. It's dark when I arrive and as I come thorough the hotel doors, ride coordinators run up to me cheering, stating that dispatch had been out looking for me for the past hour. I'm completely overwhelmed and can't speak. Tears fill my eyes as I walk to my room and collapse on the floor. What a first day. 13 hours, 103 miles- and I still had 182 more miles to go.
After the caffeine and Ibuprofen wore off, I realized that the Universe decided to spare my face, head and arms during the fall- but at the cost of my neck. Completely strained and stiff, I knew today was going to be a joy. At breakfast, I was cleared by medical to ride and was back on the bike by 6:30AM.
Wearing my red apparel, I was dressed for “Red Dress Day.” The tradition started on AIDS LifeCycle, the seven-day AIDS ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It was someone’s idea that everyone should “dress red” for a day so that on a portion of the route that looped back on itself there would appear to be a giant AIDS ribbon if viewed from above. Somehow “dress red” got reversed to “red dress” and has remained that way ever since. The Braking AIDS Ride picked up the tradition in 2010, and the crew and riders were decked out in red tutu's, dresses, and wigs. It was such a site, adding to the lighthearted nature of the ride.
Day 2 of the Braking AIDS ride is considered to be the most torturous. With 45 degree angled hills, the topography map resembled a Six Flags roller coaster. We were told that if we can make it past the dreaded Mt. Archer, the rest of the day would be a breeze- practically flat. To lighten the over riding gloom of Mt. Archer, the route for the day was decorated with yellow spray paint highlighting road imperfections for us to avoid. Potholes outlined with a sun, smiley faces with direction arrows, and words of encouragement, made me smile despite the apprehension building inside me.
The words "This is it :)" lead me to the base of Mt. Archer, or as many of the riders affectionately called it, "Mt. WTF were you thinking Eric?" A hill that might as well have been at a 90 degree angle was littered with riders working tirelessly to reach the summit and crew yelling so much affirmation and encouragement, it made your heart swell and your legs stronger.
Take 1- Riding slowly I begin my ascent, and wind up in a bush on the side of the road.
Take 2 - I notice some other riders riding in an S pattern to take the strain off of riding straight up. I follow suite and immediately notice the ease. Almost colliding with another rider, I clip out to avoid falling sideways.
Take 3- I catch my breath and accept a push from a crew member and am able to power through my downshift and make it to the top- success!
Continuing on the ride, I am convinced that my gluteus muscles have fused together. I grab a gallon bag full of ice at the next oasis and treat myself to an ice seat- cooling my buns while being swept to lunch. After lunch I look forward to the smooth sailing I was told would occur after Mt. Archer. Expecting barely any hills, and beautiful coastline, I settle in for the ride. I was so excited for flat land, only to continue to climb hills- flat land my ass!
At every oasis we were met with so much love, positivity and care. It just made you want to keep pushing. Riding on the positivity high, I felt unstoppable. I ended my ride with a group of Honey Badger teammates and got to the hotel on time, getting to experience the cheering squad of riders and crew, welcoming you in for the night. Dinner was family style and as I ate, riders and crew got up and told stories from their day and inspiration they felt during the ride. It was magical. Returning to my room, I slathered my body in menthol cold therapy gel and heating pads, and drifted to sleep.
Two down, one to go.
82 miles from Connecticut into New York. I am so exciting to finish and share my experience with my fiance and friends at the finish line. However, waking up this morning proved to be more difficult than expected. Dehydrated and completely congested, I can barely move and eating is the least appealing option to me in the moment. Food and countless glasses of water, apple juice and coffee later- coupled with a few pulls from my inhaler, I decide to be swept to the first oasis to give my body time to adjust.
The weather was amazing and I could not be more proud in my official Braking AIDS jersey to spread the word to anyone who asked what we were doing. Up and down hills, offering encouraging words to each other as we passed one another, posing for photo opps for official rider photographer Alan Barnett, and stopping to take care of our minds and bodies at each oasis, you could feel the excitement and pride that completion would bring.
I rode a good portion of the third day with the hilarious character, Tripp - a proud, positive pedal-er, donning an orange flag signifying his status and showcasing that those diagnosed with HIV were not only appreciative of the assistance that the ride would bring to those in need, but are also fighting the fight. He, like many of my riding and crewing colleagues, have completed Braking AIDS and various other rides supporting HIV/AIDS services across the country and overseas. The years of dedication and support amongst the 200+ people surrounding me was innumerable. The struggle up the hills during the day were difficult for me, but the struggles that people living with HIV/AIDS face are not even of comparison. I live a life of privilege with a job, home, and support systems- while many other people have been displaced, are without medical care, and are living in poverty. I will gladly push my physical limits to show others that it is possible to obtain their goals.
We were finally in New York and I couldn't be more excited. Twenty miles to go, moving steadily- and along comes another flat tire. You've got to be kidding me! With no time to change the tube, I use a CO2 cartridge. Riding through midtown we encounter construction on the FDR and roadblocks from the Obama administration being in town. I can't believe it, I just want to get to the end. We finally arrive at 4:22pm, just beating the 4:30 cutoff for anyone still on the road to be swept to the holding block. Riding into holding, we are cheered, hugged, affirmed and celebrated. We were then given a "Follow Me to the End of AIDS" shirt so we can all cross the finish line in solidarity. I almost start to cry as I congratulate everyone on their triumph and a job well done.
We are given instructions for the final procession and lead across the finish line at Keith Cylar House, a Housing Works residential building and medical facility for clients living with HIV. With comedy by Judy Gold and another heartfelt speech by CEO Charles King, my emotions are everywhere. Hugging my fiance' I break into tears and begin to introduce her to the many amazing people I've met in the past three days. The welcome reception provided food, comradery, and most importantly- beer! After exchanging contact info with new friends and collecting our bags, Lauren and I loaded our bikes onto the car and drove to Brooklyn. Recovery baths here we come!
The Braking AIDS ride was one the most physical challenges of my life- but that's the point. Every pedal rotation and every second of the ride represented the millions of people, nationally and globally, that are challenged every day with living with HIV/AIDS. Riding 285 miles is a cake walk compared to the experiences that some of our friends, family, and colleagues have had towhile managing their diagnosis. Couple that with homelessness, little or no access to medical care, maneuvering treatment options, and lack of support, and you have a recipe for failure. If the millions of people on the globe can experience the type of support that was provided on this ride, the world would be a better place. This is why places like Housing Works exist- to be a building block, a support, a foundation and a home for those who need it the most. I am so proud to be a part of the Housing Works family and even more proud to have ridden in support and in honor of every person with HIV/AIDS.
For more information on the blueprint to End AIDS in NYC by 2020: http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/aids/ending_the_epidemic/docs/blueprint.pdf
For more information about Housing Works and their life sustaining services, check out: www.housingworks.org
If you or someone you know is living with HIV/AIDS or other co-morbid diseases and needs support, coaching, or resources, contact Amber Drew. Along with being our co-founder and an avid cycler- she works as a Life Coach in this field.
Photo credit: Alan Barnett and Amber Drew