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MIT affiliates bike to fight AIDS

About 10 MIT affiliates completed the Boston-New York AIDS bicycle ride this year, despite cancellation of the first day's ride due to heavy rain from Tropical Storm Floyd and a delay in shipping bicycles to the starting point for day two.

Riders from both Boston and New York amassed at Northeastern University at 4am on Thursday, Sept. 16, only to be told the ride was canceled that day. Instead of cycling, the 2,500 riders were bused to Storrs, CT, the starting point for the second day, or on to New Haven when all the sleepover spots in Storrs filled up.

Bicycles were supposed to be shipped with their riders, but due to the heavy rain on Thursday, many didn't arrive in time for day two and were shipped on to Bridgeport, CT in readiness for day three. Cyclists whose bikes went on to Bridgeport were bused again on Friday and finally started the ride on Saturday, making the 63-mile ride from Bridgeport to Manhattan.

"It was a little bit disappointing that we didn't get to ride all that much," said Jane Kuzelka, a graduate student in chemistry who spent Thursday night in New Haven, sleeping in the Coliseum sports stadium. Along with other riders, she waited that day, hoping her bike would arrive in time for her to depart at 3pm for the ride to Bridgeport. But her bike didn't make it.

She and others were eventually bused to Bridgeport, where they slept in a local high school. Her ride ended up at only 63 miles in one day, instead of the 250 she had trained for. "But everyone maintained a really positive attitude, so it worked out well," she said.

Not everyone accepted the situation with such equanimity.

John Kumpf, a graduate student in ocean engineering, decided to make the full ride on his own. "I just got frustrated that they cancelled the ride on Thursday, and even madder when I found out we were being sent to New Haven," he said. "I went to my house and picked up some tools, lights and a map, then started on my way at 5:30am [Thursday]. I was in Providence by 10:30am and got to New Haven at about 6:45pm -- a pretty full day.

"When I met up with the rest of the riders and crew in New Haven, it was so good. Along the way... the roads were a little like India in August. Streams were rivers and the roads were streams."

Karl Critz (SB and SM 1997) made the day-three ride on a recumbent bike, which "puts you in a reclining position sitting on a mesh chair. It's comfortable, fast downhill and has lots of geek appeal," he said. "I call it my Lazy-Boy on wheels."

"After blowing by another rider, [the rider] later caught up with me at a stoplight and said, 'You know, it's really disappointing to be passed by someone riding a lawn chair,'" said Mr. Critz, who claims his bike wasn't the most unusual one on the trip. There were two recumbent bikes with opaque wind screens around them. "They definitely took the weird bike award."

Each of the riders raised at least $1,700 -- the minimum required for participation. Mr. Critz raised $2,500 from "friends, relatives, co-workers, friends of friends and complete strangers. When you're riding a bike this strange, people stop and talk to you," he said. To train, he made the 40-mile round trip commute from Boston to his job at Mathworks in Natick several times a week, and took longer training rides on weekends.

On day three, the riders left Bridgeport at 6am and made it to the Bronx around noon. The closing ceremony was in Madison Square Garden. Each rider was given an official AIDS Ride T-shirt and they all paraded their bikes down Eighth Avenue.

The ride raised $7 million to be divided among three charities: Fenway Community Health Center in Boston and the Callen Lorde Community Health Center and the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York.

Boston riders took a Greyhound bus home; their bikes were shipped a couple of days later.

Will they do it again?

"Last year I sent out my Christmas letter and realized I had nothing to report," said Mr. Critz. "I wanted to do something extraordinary, to push myself and help other people. I'm definitely doing it again next year."

"I never plan that far ahead," said Ken Mitton, a sophomore mathematics major who said the best part of the ride was "during the last five miles through New York. It was the first time I'd been to the city and it was a great way to get a first look." He said he and some other AIDS riders were joined by a group of local cyclists in Manhattan. "By the time we got to Madison Square Garden, one of them had decided to do the ride next year."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 29, 1999.

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