Minnesota Red Ribbon Ride

“I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride my bike.”

The refrain from Queen’s Bicycle Races wafts out of the sweep vehicle’s window toward a long line of lycra-clad cyclists training for the 2008 Red Ribbon Ride. The Jeep is along for safety today, but the driver’s choice of music isn’t lost on those riding by. No one particular type of person is on the 36-mile round-trip training ride from St. Paul to Stillwater. The string of bicycles stretches for nearly a half-mile. They range from high-tech road bikes built for speed to a BMX bike with a foxtail waving behind its free-spirited rider.

Included are teams of husbands and wives, corporate-sponsored volunteers, like-minded individuals with slightly warped senses of humor, and even a number who don’t know anyone affected by HIV and AIDS. There are as many back stories as there are riders today, but their end goal as participants in the Red Ribbon Ride is to raise money for agencies in Minnesota serving people with HIV and AIDS.

On July 17, more than 300 riders will embark on the sixth annual Red Ribbon Ride, departing from the Mall of America in Bloomington on a four-day, 300-mile trek wending along some of Minnesota’s most beautiful rural roads through Lake City, Rochester, and Northfield. On the final day, they will finish their journey at the State Capitol in St. Paul for closing ceremonies.

Beyond the impressive physical feat itself, each rider will have raised at least $1,500. Last year, the event took in nearly $650,000. This year, the bar has been raised to a lofty goal of $700,000.

Proceeds are distributed equally among seven Minnesota-based AIDS service organizations: African American AIDS Task Force, The Aliveness Project, Clare Housing, Hope House of St Croix Valley, Minnesota AIDS Project, Park House, and Rural AIDS Action Network.

While so many individual reasons exist for such a grueling commitment, one common red thread weaves all these people together.

Executive Director Theresa Fetsch echoed the comments of so many in simply saying, “It’s a life-changing event. It’s not about the miles. It’s the journey. Everyone comes together.”

In a word, it’s about hope. Rider after rider related stories of cooperation and community on the road. Clearly, it impacted them deeply, as many of them return the following year ready to saddle up, and make another significant contribution in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

One such rider is Andy Ansell. He has been living with HIV for 21 years.

“I do it for myself out of respect for the memories of friends, and to empower those with HIV and AIDS by showing them what’s possible,” Ansell remarks.

Ansell, who has participated in every ride since the event’s inception in 2003, adds, “It’s a great way to make a difference for a lot of people. And it’s a lot of fun.”

“All I wanna do is bicycle, bicycle, bicycle.”

The sound of the music fades into the noise of tires on pavement and derailleurs shifting. The miles stretch out ahead, and the grit of determination takes hold of the many cyclists, impassioned to make a difference in their world.

For more information, log on to www.redribbonride.org.

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