Washington DC AIDS Ride 5, June 21-25, 2000
My Ride Experience
One AIDS Ride down, one to go. This year's Washington DC AIDS Ride certainly turned out to be much different than I expected, a very different experience than my other two rides...
On Wednesday (Day Zero) I woke up at 5:30 (the latest I'd sleep in for the next several days) then took a 7:45 am flight to Raleigh. While waiting for my backpack at baggage claim another rider walked up and asked if I needed a ride to the Ride registration site as they had one extra seat in their car, it was so nice of her and saved me the taxi fare. Registration was filled with the usual long lines and nervous excitement. I was part of my Church's AIDS Ride Team ("MCC-DC Different Spokes, Riding on Faith" as we named ourselves) and that evening we had a great team dinner then headed off to bed quite early.
Day One, Thursday, 109 miles, Raleigh, NC, to Lawrenceville, VA
Woke up at 3:00 am and caught the 3:45 am shuttle to the Ride starting point. Opening Ceremonies was incredibly moving and the Ride Out began around 6:00 am. There were over 1,600 cyclists so it took quite a while to get us all out of the center and onto the road, my group was the very last group to leave so we didn't start out on the road until 7:30 am.
I wore my knee braces as I'd been having knee problems for the past month. As I was getting ready to leave pit stop 4 (around 70 miles into the day) one of the doctors on the medical crew saw me heading to my bike and said, "you ARE icing your knees before you leave this pit stop aren't you? I must have been walking a bit gingerly because he didn't ask it as a question. I started to answer and he said, "good, sit here and I'll get you some ice". After icing them down for a bit he checked them out, smiled, and then put me on the bus to camp. I'd already come to the realization that I might not be able to pedal the entire route and decided to listen to my body and not push the knees to the point of damaging them, besides, the doctor didn't really give me an option <grin>. The Ride back to camp was fun as I had the opportunity to cheer up another rider with knee problems, he was really upset that he couldn't finish the first day but I finally was able to convince him that it was better to not finish the first day and then be able to finish the rest of the Ride without problems (which he did!)
Day Two, Friday, 80.6 miles, Lawrenceville to Richmond
I'd ridden most of Day One with 4 other guys and we'd planned on riding the entire Ride together. Shortly after the first pit stop we got separated from Tom & Jack (a really great couple who have been together for about 11 years). Chris, Doug, and I waited for 30 minutes for Tom & Jack to catch up but we couldn't find them. Unfortunately we were at a point where we couldn't backtrack due to heavy traffic so we had to ride on without them. Later that day we were stopped by a highway repair crew and informed that they had set down new asphalt just 2 hours before, the section of road was almost 1 mile long, up a winding hill with no sidewalks and no shoulder. The cyclists who tried to ride up the hill shortly after the asphalt was set down had their tires explode because the asphalt was over 200 degrees. As the asphalt had had a couple of hours to cool we took a chance and rode up the hill, what fun to ride up the hill, feel the heat rising off the asphalt and feeling our tires sticking to the road, fortunately the only problem was a little bit of asphalt sticking to our tires.
Riding through Richmond we were almost to the last pit stop of the day when Doug's front tire went flat. The three of us stopped and I changed Doug's tire. As he was pumping up the tire I was half way though warning him about overinflating the tire when the brand new tube exploded, I think we all must have jumped 5 feet in the air it was so loud. After we finished laughing at ourselves I change the tire again and we very carefully inflated the tube. Just as we finished Tom & Jack rode up, seems Jack's cycling cleats had to be readjusted and it took forever to get them right, so we all ended up riding into Richmond together anyway.
That evening at camp we stunned by the terrible news that one of our fellow cyclists had died of a brain aneurysm the night before. Eve had been fine during most of the day but started to get a terrible headache which she thought was due to dehydration. Unfortunately it was much more than dehydration. Eve was an experienced cyclist and was in great physical shape, this was her 2nd or 3rd AIDS Ride. Eve's family has been so touched by the response of her fellow Riders that the Riders were invited to the funeral tomorrow. The reason so many of us participate in the AIDS Ride is to provide care and hope to the living, and to give comfort and dignity to the dying. Eve's death impacted us more than words can express, our thoughts and prayers are with Eve's family.
Day Three, 98.7 miles, Richmond to Manassas
The 5 of us started out bright and early as Day Three has traditionally been the most challenging day on the Ride, this year was no exception, but for very different reasons. The day was very hot and the 2nd pit stop didn't have much shade. We made due with what little shade there was and all graduated from AIDS Ride finishing school after successfully learning to walk around, eat, drink, converse, sit down and get up, all while balancing a ziplock back of ice on our heads. The next stretch of the route was several miles down a long winding hill, part way down the hill we stopped because Jack had a muscle ache in his back. We continued riding and after a short distance stopped again as Jack's pains had moved to his chest and left arm. Jack, who is in his 50s, had a heart attack many years ago and has a defibulator in his heart. While none of us panicked we were all extremely concerned. Our cell phones didn't work as we were in the middle of nowhere and after waiting for a minute or two without seeing a Ride sweep vehicle I hopped on my bike and rode full out back up the hill in search of a phone, ride vehicle, and aspirin (seems all of us carry ibuprofen, not aspirin, argh). I rode about 1.5 miles up the hill and came upon 3 Arlington Bicycle Cops who were also taking part in the AIDS Ride, I told them the situation, none of us knew where we were so one of the officers saw a mailbox, opened it and got our exact address off one of the letters inside. They immediately called 911 and we raced back down the hill to Jack and the others. The Arlington officers were great, kept Jack and the rest of us calm and kept Jack talking until the ambulance arrived. It seemed to take forever for the ambulance to arrive, partly because it went the wrong way on the road but the dispatcher was able to turn it around. Bless rural, volunteer, emergency medical services, the driver asked me to help get Jack onto the stretcher and then get him into the ambulance. Tom went with Jack to the hospital in Fredericksburg and we waited until the ride sweep vehicle arrived and put Jack's and Tom's bikes on the car to be taken back to camp, we then resumed riding.
About 30 minutes later I started to feel most poorly, I started to get a bit dizzy and confused (no comments thank you very much) so we stopped so I could drink some more gatorade and eat. I knew I wasn't dehydrated as I am a major hydration guru, I drink constantly while riding and constantly am encouraging others to stay hydrated. I felt better after about 15 minutes so we continued to the lunch pit stop not far down the road. I wasn't hungry but felt as if I was out of energy so after forcing myself to eat lunch I started to feel much. After cycling for the past several years I know my body well and knew that there was still something out of sorts so shortly before 4 pm I went to the medical crew just to check in. The University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center is one of the AIDS Ride sponsors and their mobile Shock Trauma vehicle was at the pit stop. The doctor checked my blood pressure and before saying anything to me turned to one of the nurses and asked if there were any stretchers available inside the vehicle. Seems my blood pressure was through the roof and my pulse rate was 120 beats per minute even though I'd been sitting down at lunch for the past hour. They hooked me up to the heart monitor, kept taking my blood pressure, and started to ice my body down since I was a bit overheated and had all the symptoms of being dehydrated. I explained that there was no possible way I was dehydrated and told them how much I drink while riding. The doctor agreed that I am an excellent hydrator (especially after seeing how many times I needed to go to the restroom while under her care) but was still disturbed by what she saw on the monitor.
They put me in a medical transport and sent me back to camp. By this time my blood pressure had gone way down and my pulse rate was back to normal. The nurse in the medical van must certainly believe that laughter is the best medicine as she kept us all in stitches during the entire hour plus trip to camp. I arrived at the Medical tent at camp around 7 pm, went through triage, and was seen by the doctor. I almost received the dreaded rehydration IV (which I thought would be like putting a pin into a water balloon) but by the time I got to camp my system was pretty much back to normal. They took blood and checked for nutrient levels, all of which were fine. Seems that I was a victim of OVER-hydration. Riding my bike 1.5 miles up the hill earlier in the day to look for help had used up almost all of the energy I had stored in my system (it wasn't a small hill), it also made me crave fluids as a way of trying to restore the electrolyte balance in my system. I was drinking a ton of water and gatorade but my body was losing fluid faster than I could drink due to excessively frequent trips to the restroom.
While sitting in Medical I saw Jack & Tom arrive back from the hospital. Thank God it was only a pulled muscle in his chest so Jack was fine and was okayed to ride the next day. Tom told us that the ambulance (which had no emergency heart equipment, no monitor, etc) stopped twice on the way to the hospital, once to get gas and the 2nd time to pick up the paramedic who is a landscaper and was out on a job when the emergency call came in!
I was finally released from Medical around 9 pm, the doctor said, "I've never told this to a cyclist before, but don't drink anything until tomorrow morning." By this point the only two things I wanted were dinner and a shower. I got both and then crashed for the night after debriefing with my team mates who were all most concerned.
Day Four, 37.2 miles, Manassas to DC
The doctors had cleared me to ride so I took to the road with my other 4 cycling buddies and we made the short trip to DC. The last day of the Ride is a lot of fun, since it is so short most everyone stays in camp until the very last minute (when they threaten to put us on the bus to DC if we don't leave soon <g>), and we all stay at the pit stops until each of them close. While riding the cyclist are all very vocal, pointing out road hazards to each other, letting each other know about approaching vehicles, dogs, etc, and reminding each other to hydrate. So for Day Four my motto was "hydrate - in moderation" which my team mates found very amusing.
Crossing the Key Bridge back into DC was very emotional, the Ride certainly had not turned out the way I'd expected but I felt it was a success, I'd gone beyond my limits physically, and also learned that there are a lot of more important things in life that being able to finish each and every mile of the Ride. The guys in my group all celebrated that, despite our respective medical difficulties we had all been able to finish the ride together.
During opening and closing ceremonies a riderless bicycle is wheeled in to symbolize those friends and family members who are no longer here. For closing ceremonies Eve's bicycle was used and her boyfriend carried her helmet in tribute.
For four days we created a world that functions the way life should be - everyone working together, looking out for each other, caring for each other, not in competition with one another. The AIDS Ride has a wonderful way of putting life in perspective, this year that perspective was more clear than ever.
Thanks for sharing this journey with me!
Next stop - the Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride in August.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
- Margaret Mead.
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