Carol Gold stood at the edge of the shade cast by a walnut tree yesterday, a smile on her face and fatigue in her bones.
In a sea of bruised legs, sore backs and sweat-drenched biking shorts, Gold, 53, was being nagged, gently, by her 17-year-old daughter.
"We both can be stubborn," Leah Gold said, explaining how it was that her mother and she had chosen to halt their progress in the 1999 Washington, D.C., AIDS Ride 4--to bag it for a few hours and not risk dehydration on the ride's most grueling day. "We both could have gotten in trouble."
With dozens of medical volunteers, other staff and 1,700 bikers on the 330-mile trip, there seemed little chance of that. Which is one reason the two Golds said they enjoyed the event so much.
"It's a ride, not a race," Carol Gold said, laughing and reflecting on how it was not just the super-fit who pedaled north from the starting point in Raleigh, N.C. Real people rode, too.
The four-day AIDS Ride is expected to raise $4.8 million for two Washington area AIDS-related philanthropies, the Whitman-Walker Clinic and Food & Friends.
The Whitman-Walker Clinic, an anchor in health care for the Washington gay community since 1973, estimates that it helps two of every three people with AIDS in the area. Food & Friends delivers meals and provides nutritional services to homebound individuals with HIV or AIDS.
The ride concludes today with a final 33-mile leg from Manassas to the National Mall. There, hundreds of participants are expected to enjoy a picnic and listen to speeches from AIDS activists, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and others.
The ride has drawn hundreds of riders such as the Golds, people who have made a physical challenge like this one part of an effort to improve their lives. For many, the fact that they can provide some support to a worthy cause is icing. To raise the required $1,900-a-rider entry fee, many have solicited pledges from co-workers, family members and others. Many of the riders contribute more than the required fee, organizers said.
Carol and Leah Gold said they not only were getting the satisfaction of helping to raise money for two good causes--one of which, Food & Friends, they volunteer for--but also were making the distance on their own, more personal journeys.
Namely, the two had used the ride, and the months of training that preceded it, to enhance their mother-daughter relationship.
"It's been nice," Leah Gold said of the long training rides she has shared with her mother on weekends. "Every ride we'd get into a fight, but we always ended up figuring it out."
Friday's ride had been a brush with serious dehydration for Carol Gold, a situation she said her daughter prevented from becoming more serious.
"She has a lot of good sense and lots of good judgment. And she was absolutely right today, because I would have been stubborn," said Carol Gold, who ended up being taken by ambulance to one of the rest stops and given intravenous fluids.
Although they pulled up short yesterday, the two Golds said they both intended to ride in the closing ceremonies today. A bus would take them the 39 miles to Manassas last night, and crews would haul their bikes. From there, they would start this morning for Washington.
Other Washington area cyclists made the ride part of a personal transformation.
"I'm pretty amazed at myself," said Arlington physical therapist Peggy Gillman, 48, resting earlier yesterday beneath the same walnut tree near Fredericksburg. An ice bag topped her left knee. She had surpassed her own expectations of how fast she would travel and now was in the front of the pack.
Gillman said she already had achieved most of her goals even before joining the race. Four years ago, she weighed more than 300 pounds; now, she said, she weighs about 180. For her, the journey to the AIDS Ride really was the reward, she said.
Gillman said she committed to the race in the fall and sent a fund-raising letter to family and friends to help raise the entry fee. That steeled her.
"I didn't want to let anybody down," she said.
Her friend Kate Lemmerman said Gillman hasn't.
"She's always been a great person. But with the training for the ride, she's really blossomed," said Lemmerman, a doctor. "She's always been a compassionate person, but what is different is now there is a health component. She's taking care of others, and she is taking care of herself."
One who wasn't in Fredericksburg yesterday was Michael Li, 33, a computer consultant in the Fairfax offices of Ernst & Young LLP who had begun training for the ride last year as part of his efforts to shed 100 pounds. He had lost 30--trimming back to 240 pounds--and was doing fine on the ride until Friday, when he fell off his bike nearing Richmond.
"I had my moment as I was laying there in the street just looking up at the sky," he said by phone yesterday, speaking from a medical tent in Manassas set up for cyclists. His was the most serious accident reported during the ride through yesterday, race officials said. A trip to a Richmond hospital pointed to a possible broken collar bone and cracked ribs.
But never mind. For Li, the spill was only a minor setback.
"I've come a long way. I accomplished a lot of my personal goals," he said.
Some of his co-workers who had formed an Ernst & Young team still were riding yesterday.
"I guess a lot of people were shocked when Li said he was going to do it. But he stuck with it, and now everybody is totally amazed," said co-worker William Browning. "As hard as it was for Li to recognize this, his teammates already considered him a success. Just being here was a victory for him. This is all just gravy. He's done a lot."
Not a Race, a Ride
The Fourth Annual AIDS Ride began Thursday, with 1,700 riders attempting the four-day, 330-mile trek from Raleigh, N.C., to Washington. Their route:
Day 1, Thursday
Camp 1: Lawrenceville, Va.
Day 2, Friday
Camp 2: Richmond
Day 3, Yesterday
Camp 2: Manassas
Day 4, Today
CAPTION: AIDS Ride participant Carol Gold takes a break in a park in Fredericksburg, Va. Gold and her daughter Leah trained for and did the ride together.