Kate Pipa of Shelton began a cross-country ride for charity with her bicycle’s rear tire in the Pacific Ocean. Sixty-three days and 14 states later, she finished the ride with her front tire in the Atlantic.
In between, Pipa and six other bicyclists rode on asphalt, gravel and dirt roads; climbed mountains and traversed valleys; and passed through deserts, urban areas and endless farm country.
They bonded and persevered along the way while making stops to educate people about HIV/AIDS.
The sixth annual Ride Against AIDS from San Francisco to Boston this summer raised money for two nonprofits, FACE AIDS and Partners in Health.
It’s a cause that is important to Pipa, who traveled to India, South Africa and Switzerland to work on related social projects while in college.
Accessing education and medical care
]The 2008 Shelton High graduate feels strongly that everyone in the world should have access to HIV/AIDS education and medical treatment. “Where you are born shouldn’t be a factor,” she said.
Pipa, 23, said there still is a stigma about the disease in many places in the world, even among doctors who are afraid to treat HIV/AIDS patients.
FACE AIDS has raised more than $3 million since being founded in 2005 by three Stanford University students. The bike ride was started two years later to support the organization. FACE AIDS is a youth-led agency that educates college students about HIV/AIDS.
Partners in Health works with other groups to provide modern medical care to people living in poverty in some of the poorest countries around the world.
Graduated from Northeastern in May
Pipa graduated from Northeastern University in Boston in May with a business degree in social entrepreneurship. She would like to work for a nonprofit organization or for a business with a social impact (called a “social enterprise”).
She was joined in the ride by Dana Ballard of Silver Spring, Md., a 2011 McGill University graduate; Lisa Fawcett of Los Altos Hills, Calif., a senior at Cornell University; and Amanda Feairheller of Dayton, Ohio, a junior at Baldwin Wallace University.
Also, Laura Karson of New York City, a 2013 Carleton College graduate; Max Smith of Santa Rosa, Calif., a 2013 University of Oregon graduate; and Eric Steinbrook of Lincoln, Mass., a junior at Amherst College.
Little experience with long-distance cycling
Pipa was not an experienced bicyclist before making the trip. “Maybe I wasn’t before but now I am,” she said, laughing.
Traveling 60 to 120 miles a day for more than two months brings experience.
She purchased her first “road bike” a month before the trip. Her advance training involved rides from 30 to 80 miles. “I wasn’t sure I could physically do this,” Pipa said.
But she endured. “In the beginning it was tough to do, but you essentially ‘bike’ yourself into it,” she said.
Waking up at 5:30 a.m.
The daily schedule usually involved getting up at 5:30 a.m., starting to ride at 6:30, and biking until the mid or late afternoon. They would generally take a “rest day” once a week.
A van carried supplies such as food, clothing and camping gear.
They spent most nights with hosts, such as family, friends, or supporters of the two charities. They also found places to stay through warmshowers.org, a website for touring bicyclists to secure free overnight housing.
About a third of the time, they camped in tents.
Spent night in Shelton along the way
The almost 4,000-mile route took the riders through Connecticut toward the end, when they stayed overnight with Pipa’s parents in Shelton.
She is the daughter of John and Helen Pipa and has an older sister, Alison, who is a teacher.
Her family was supportive, and were waiting for her in Boston when she completed the ride.
Nation of memories
Pipa, who posted updates on a blog and her Facebook page during the ride, has distinct memories of places along the way.
The riders went days ”without seeing any green” in Nevada. “It was just shrubs and rocks, with up to 80 miles between towns and no cell reception,” she said. “And there was a heat wave.”
Colorado was the most picturesque state, with its mountains, but also “the most strenuous with all the elevations,” Pipa said.
They rode over Vail Pass and Loveland Pass, which at 11,990 feet was the highest elevation along the way. “There was even some snow,” she said.
Nebraska was “super flat, with a lot of corn” as well as many public pools and Frisbee golf courses, Pipa said. Iowa also had a lot of corn fields but “was slightly hillier,” she said.
Windstorm at Starvation State Park
A night spent camping at Starvation State Park in Utah was scary. They went swimming in a large lake before a major storm with high winds arrived, destabilizing the tents. Some riders slept inside the van that night.
They spoke to youngsters at Boys & Girls Clubs in two states, visited AIDS programs in Nebraska and Chicago, and made a presentation at a church in Greenwich.
“We were building awareness of our ride and the charities,” Pipa said.
In Iowa City, they threw out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game. And in New Jersey, they got to show a 30-second video they had made at a N.Y. Red Bulls professional soccer game.
Still raising funds for the charities
The goal was for the seven riders to raise $10,000 each, or a combined $70,000.
Pipa still is looking for help to reach her goal by a Sept. 30 deadline. To help her out, go to www.faceaids.org/raa.
She was impressed with the generosity of strangers along the way. Many people would donate small amounts of money when they learned about their cause. One woman in Ohio contributed $100.
They sold AIDS pins made by women affected by AIDS in the African country of Rwanda to help generate funds.
Made new friendships
Pipa didn’t know any of the other bicyclists before the trip, but now considers them friends. There were challenges along the way, and not everyone was smiling every day. But they pushed ahead.
“We were all there for the cause,” she said. “We all cared about the same thing, and had to make it work.”
The ride is one way Pipa could make a difference in the battle against HIV/AIDS. “I don’t have a medical degree but I knew I could help by riding across the United States,” she said.