Why ride

European AIDS Vaccine ride

Amsterdam to Paris, June 30-July 6th, 2002

As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own. -Margaret Mead, anthropologist (1901-1978)


Why ride?

by Lester Jacobson

with daughter Emily
 Sat, 10 Aug 2002 23:37:27 -0500
   From: "lester jacobson" lesterjake@attbi.com

Why we ride
 There was a small sign above the tent with the jugs of Gatorade and 
boxes of Power Bars at the first pit stop on Day 3 that read: "Ask a 
fellow rider why you're riding 500 miles in 6 days?" It was a fair 
question. Couldn't we have raised as much money without enduring so much 
hardship ("disuncomfortability" Em called it)-sore butt; chafed thighs (aka 
the dreaded "saddle rash"); random jolts of pain from fingers, toes, 
elbows and the hinder parts; and general exhaustion and heat prostration, 
all from pedaling up and down the constantly "rolling hills" of 
Wisconsin from St. Paul to Chicago as part of the seventh annual (and as it 
turns out, last) Heartland AIDS bike ride.

I think you'd get a lot of answers, as many as people you asked, but 
the ones I came up with were:

1) It's supposed to be hard, not a walk in the park, to instill 
humility, inspire onlookers and convince donors to "go the extra mile." (It 
didn't inspire everyone, though. A sign seen around Lake Geneva read: 
"Keep on pumping. Go AIDS.")

2) We realize our pain & suffering pale in comparison to the genuine 
and transforming pain and suffering of people with HIV and AIDS.

3) The ride is meant to bring out our personal best, not just physical 
accomplishment but through a burgeoning camaraderie and spirit of 
cooperation which, properly encouraged, is transmuted to onlookers, friends, 
families and by extension, the community at large. (Or at least that's 
what the inspirational literature, speeches and signs-"This hill 
doesn't own you! You own this hill!" served up by the ride organizers would 
have us believe.)

The cynic in me found this last point-the inspirational messaging-načve 
and even somewhat distasteful. But as another rider pointed out, 
"What's the matter with trying to inspire ourselves and others by our 
example?" Another good question.

 But mostly I did the ride because Emily asked me, and we did it for 
our friend Jay, gone 12 years. Nothing I did then or could do now can 
bring him back. But we raised $6,000 between us to benefit AIDS 
organizations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. And we shared-side by side by 
day and under our frail little pup tent by night-one of the great 
adventures of our lives.

 Adventures such as awakening midnight Wednesday in Watertown to a 
thunderstorm breaking overhead, clapping the air and pelting us with such 
force we thought the tent was going to pull up stakes and blow away. As 
we huddled anxiously together, gathering our things, a voice outside 
rang out: "Grab your sleeping bag and head into the high school!" 
Hundreds of us slept on the gym floor, covered with Mylar sheets that crinkled 
like rain all night long.

I half-expected next day's ride to be cancelled, but no, everyone dully 
filed out of the gym at 6 a.m. and we were on the road by 7:30.

 Or Day 2, the hardest day, fighting perverse head winds and climbing 
and descending the incessant "rolling hills" from Menomonie to Black 
River Falls, when after 12 hours and 105 miles, and with 5 miles to go, we 
were flagged off the road because "the route is closed." Darkness.

Or Day 3, in which after riding 65 miles I ignominiously sagged 
(hitched a ride to camp in a "sweep vehicle") from inflamed butt and saddle 
rash. Was it on Day 3, riding alone in my blacktop stupor, that I 
composed the song, Darn Wisconsin (sung to the tune of On Wisconsin)?

Darn Wisconsin, darn Wisconsin,

Darn those hilly roads.

Sure it's pretty and it's peaceful,

But my butt is sore, sore, sore, sore.

Darn Wisconsin, darn Wisconsin

All those distant peaks!

Tell me there's one more cent-u-ry

Then call.the.sweeps!

Or riding into Amish country and seeing the friendly kids in their 
overalls playing by the side of the road while their folks tend the farms 
and drive horse-drawn threshers. Or the cranberry bogs ("Cranberry 
Capital of the World"), where we're served free cranberry ice cream from a 
roadside stand. The Monet haystacks, the Renoir sunsets. Scores of 
lovely people, from all parts of the country, all ages, all physical 
specimens, all manner of bikes (including two tandems and three recumbents):

Mary Jo Kelly, another Allstater; Dean Schott, a former colleague at 
the Sun-Times; Shelli and Sherrey, two sisters from Milwaukee; Jen, an 
MSW who works at an AIDS summer camp and whose kids authorized her to 
name her pains after them; Kris, a fitness center manager from Highland 
Park, and her husband Wayne, who trades at the BOT; fellow Evanstonian 
Lou Weiss, crewing at Pit Stop 1, and his son, Gabe, a rider; Brandi from 
Chicago, who grew up on a farm in Indiana (and who is therefore 
unimpressed when I marvel at the Monet haystacks. "I've seen them all my 
life.") She & her actor husband are moving from Chicago to Brooklyn in two 
weeks so she can get her master's degree in theater management; Ellie, a 
newspaper photographer from Fort Worth; Peter, a flutist from Chicago; 
Andy, a lawyer and pianist, whose wife Annie is a violinist with the 
Ravinia Festival Orchestra; Christina, who drove up with us from Chicago; 
John, a business consultant from Thailand who flew in for the ride, and 
is seen after Day 1 at the medical tent of every pit stop having his 
bum knees worked over (incredibly, he rides every mile); Jennifer, a 
graphic designer from Villa Park; Joanne, a therapist from Evanston.

And John, a ride staffer, who casually informed us that skinheads 
cruise outside Camp 2 looking for trouble and fundamentalists picket at Camp 
3 asking us to see God's point. (We see none of this, including God's 
point.) I talk with riders in part to build the images I wish to carry 
from the trip and in part to ward off pain and boredom on the road.

Three flat tires (what's the deal with that?), and being passed 
countless times by people fatter, older and riding worse bikes than me (what's 
the deal with that?). Feeling the hot sweat under my helmet and down my 
arms and legs, and the exhilaration of riding flat out for 15-20 miles 
straight and passing my first century at the crest of a hill by Hoen's 
Farm with the sun setting and one more "freakin' big hill" to go.

Emily & I ride together the first couple of days, but then she gets 
stronger and I get weaker, and she rides ahead. Good for her (though I 
trained harder). Emily wonders why I can't figure out how to put up the 
tent or organize my things, and also how I can remember so many peoples' 
names and stories. I wonder at her grit and good sense, enjoy her wry 
humor and caustic commentary even as she is breaking the ride's three 
cardinal rules: no whining, no whining, no whining. Gradually, adjusting 
to the hardships, she starts to enjoy herself and smile more, a 
beautiful sight. Perhaps the turning point for both of us is The Great Storm 
in Watertown ("Why couldn't we have camped in Pardeeville?" someone 
asked the next day): how can it get any worse?

Or Day 5, Red Day, to celebrate our crossing into Illinois, another 
hard one. The sun bears down and I lack the strength even to sip water. 
("Drink and pee. Drink and pee. No I.V.!" the pit stop signs helpfully 
admonish us.) Dull with heat I make a wrong turn after 55 miles and ride 
an extra thousand yards before being overtaken by an ambulance and 
sweep wagon. I gratefully sag after lunch.

Day 6, the last day, the most festive, with a gentle flat ride from 
McHenry down to Libertyville and east through Highland Park to Sheridan 
Road, south to the Chicago lakefront bike path. One more flat tire (What 
have I done to offend you, O Bicycle Gods?) that is fixed quickly by 
helpful riders-that blasted camaraderie again!

And then we roll into Foster Avenue and wait for everyone to gather to 
begin the last stage. Outfitted in red AIDS Ride T-shirts we converge 
in one massive maroon-colored pelleton-1,200 riders-eight blocks to 
Montrose Harbor, cheered on by hundreds of well-wishers, friends and 
family. Jay's boys are there, young men now, who have missed his sly humor, 
worldly wisdom and parental authority but have grown up straight and 
true nevertheless. That's when the ride turns emotional for me, and I 
finally break down and weep. We are not heroes. We are just riders. He was 
a hero. He's why we ride.

 Thank you all for supporting our efforts.

 Les Jacobson

Rider # 1378

August 2002

Join the crew

     See about my participation in the Avon 3-day walk for breast cancer prevention.

     See also my 4-day walk around Nijmegen, Holland.

      There are over 300,000 Americans living with AIDS. In 1999, over 10,000 Americans died of AIDS many of them poor.   And a new generation of young people is growing up with a frightening lack of respect for the deadliness of this virus.

Noah's arc I received the following on email and thought it was appropriate:

Everything I need to know about life, I learned from Noah's Ark...

  • One: Don't miss the boat.
  • Two: Remember that we are all in the same boat.
  • Three: Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark.
  • Four: Stay fit. When you're 600 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
  • Five: Don't listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
  • Six: Build your future on high ground.
  • Seven: For safety's sake, travel in pairs.
  • Eight: Speed isn't always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.
  • Nine: When you're stressed, float a while.
  • Ten: Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.
  • Eleven: No matter the storm, when you are with God, there's always a rainbow waiting.
  • On difficult ground, press on.         On encircled ground, devise strategies.         On death ground, fight.                     ---Sun Tsao

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    Last updated 8/22/02