Cold and Wet, But Fun
By Rich McManus
On the Front Page...
Even though he is back at work now as an entomologist in the Division of Safety, Trevor Lubbert is not completely done yet with the 500-mile Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride, a bike tour he took Aug. 21-26, stretching from Fairbanks to downtown Anchorage. That's because he still owes thank-you notes to the many donors including some here at NIH who pledged a total of $4,300 to his effort, and because, as the father of a young girl, he is fearful of a world in which a killer virus goes unchecked. And quite frankly, it's also because he isn't done shivering yet at memories of a cold, wet ride marred by almost daily rainfall, prying winds and the unthinkable especially for a native of Maryland onset of winter in mid-August.
"It was the only time in my life that I prayed for more hills around the next bend," he said. "It was so cold, the only way to stay warm was to really push it."
A fitness enthusiast who runs and cycles regularly in Rock Creek Park, which abuts his neighborhood, Lubbert found out about the ride from friends, some of whom signed on for the tour with him as part of a D.C.-area entourage known as Team D.C. The Filibusters. "I went for three reasons: first, I wanted to go to Alaska. Second, I love to cycle. And third, it's a great cause. It was a one, two, three punch for me a no-brainer," he said.
Funds from the ride, which exceeded its goal of $3.8 million by some $300,000, are earmarked for three respected vaccine teams at academic medical centers in the United States. Each of the 1,500 riders who participated in the Alaska ride had to raise a minimum of $3,900. Lubbert tapped a wide network of friends, family and acquaintances with a touching letter noting the devastation wrought by AIDS. Though he hasn't known anyone who suffers from the disease, he nonetheless felt compelled to act.
"We all have children, and we can only control their activities to a certain point," he said. "This disease is wiping out everyone in Africa. It's horrendous. Something needs to be done now. This is my part it's what I can do."
Riding a 14-speed Raleigh Team road bike he built 6 years ago, Lubbert trained hard only in the 3 weeks prior to the event; daily 40-mile rides augmented by a 70-miler on the weekends. "Time in the saddle," he nodded. "That was the main issue."
Once in Alaska, participants' days were regimented as the riders formed a rolling bivouac a "Tent City," Lubbert said every 70 to 90 miles, mainly via major highways. It rained every day but one, but also snowed and sleeted. Riders sheathed themselves in Mylar before donning layers of clothing, including ponchos that made them look like mobile Hefty bags. On the hardest day, day 2, only 200 of the 1,500 riders finished the 70-mile course; some suffered mild frostbite and hypothermia. Lubbert was among the 200 who completed every mile of the whole journey.
With logistics managed by a professional tour company of some 500 crewmembers who transported luggage, tents, chow trucks and portable showers, all the riders had to do was make miles under mostly miserable conditions, but Lubbert and his friends found the fun in it.
"The theme of the ride was kindness, and that's what you felt, even when you were tired and wet. All the people were just outstanding, and very helpful to one another. The first ones to finish the course would help the others set up their tents," he recalls.
One unexpected challenge, he said, concerned the difficulty of finding your way back in a sea of identical tents in the wee hours after a trip to the restroom. "If you didn't leave some kind of marker on the roof of the tent, it was hopeless to find the right one."
Despite sundry hardships, Lubbert plans to ride again for the benefit of medical research; he intends to register for the North Carolina-to-D.C. AIDS Ride next year, and also wants to do another AIDS vaccine ride ("It's what they call a 'vac-to-vac' ride," he quipped) from Montreal to Maine. "I haven't gotten to see that part of the world yet," he says.
Lubbert said he "hasn't yet tallied all I spent personally on the ride," but one senses that his bookkeeping won't keep him up nights. The Alaska trip, he concludes, "was a great experience all the way around. I will never forget it. It was quite a personal challenge."
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