Alaska AIDS rider said cold and snow was worth it

Posted: Wednesday, September 06, 2000

The inaugural Alaska AIDS Ride was expected to be a leisurely -- if not long -- fund-raising bike ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage with lots of scenery and camaraderie among dedicated AIDS activists from around the world.

Three riders from Juneau experienced plenty of scenery -- as in snow-frosted shrubs -- and plenty of camaraderie -- as in bikers huddled together to keep warm from the torrential rain, wind and snow, during the race.

Jessica Menendez, Aimee Olejasz and Fabienne Peter-Contesse were among the 1,504 riders who battled unexpected winter weather during the six-day, 510-mile ride that began Aug. 21.

Menendez was one of just 237 riders who completed the mileage on Day 2, a stretch along the Richardson Highway between Delta Junction and Paxson. Most of the riders were not from Alaska, and got caught in a snowstorm, forcing organizers to call the Army at nearby Fort Greely for help. Olejasz and Peter-Contesse were among the riders who were bused 40 miles south to a camp in Isabel Pass.

Menendez said finishing that day's ride cost her.

"It felt like it added three more days of fatigue, not to mention that the next morning we woke to snow," she said.

Menendez added that the riders bused to Isabel Pass probably had it worse.

"They were wet and cold, wrapped in mylar blankets all waiting for rides," Menendez said. "It took the wind out of everybody. The spirit of everyone was going through a storm."

Menendez said the experience was worth it -- $4.1 million was raised to benefit three scientists directly involved in finding an AIDS vaccine. Each rider had to raise at least $3,900 to participate.

Menendez, Olejasz and Peter-Contesse all rode together in California AIDS Ride 6 in June 1999 from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and Menendez rode in California AIDS Rides 5 and 7. Menendez said she joined the 34-member "Spokebuster Team" dedicated to riding in eight AIDS fund-raising rides throughout the country. Five of the rides --California, Texas, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul -- benefit AIDS service organizations. The Alaska AIDS Ride, a ride in Montana, and a ride from Canada to Vermont, raise money for a vaccine, Menendez said.

That means Menendez is committed to raising upwards of $21,000 for the rides, the first of which begins next June.

"The community has been extremely supportive," Menendez said. One of her most popular fund-raisers was a 24-hour spinning ride at a local restaurant. "We're all a part of making AIDS history."

For now, though, Menendez said she just wanted to relax. Menendez said she still was chilled and exhausted a week after the race, and had taken numerous steam baths since the race just to get warm.

"This may not have been one of the extreme sports, but it was an extreme race," Menendez said. "I'll be in recovery mode for awhile."

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