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Riding for AIDS Charity

Local bikers prepare for Tour de Friends 330-mile ride coming through Arlington next month.

There?s a stretch of road near the line separating Virginia and North Carolina where the miles drag on, and it?s easy to lose focus. Julie Martinez should know ? she?s biked it before.

?You kind of forget,? she said, ?are we in the Carolinas or Virginia??

When she reaches that spot the next time, she?ll still have several hundred miles to go before she reaches her goal. ?It?s probably tougher mentally than it is physically,? said Martinez. ?It feels like the rest of the world just stops.?

Martinez and other local bicyclists will join over 1,000 people in the first Tour de Friends bike ride, a 330-mile trip from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to raise money for three HIV/AIDS charities.

Five times before, Martinez took part in AIDS Rides, the Tour de Friends precursor, once as a rider and four times as an organizer. She is riding this year to help the new event raise money.

Training is nothing compared to the fundraising, she says. ?I would much rather be riding my bike than begging people for money,? said Martinez. Each rider must raise $2,500 in contributions. The slow economy has made that amount of money difficult to come by. ?People look in their wallets and say, ?There?s only 10 bucks. I really can?t afford it,?? said Martinez.

Daniel Renart is having better luck. ?Oddly enough, the people you think probably couldn?t afford it are often the most generous,? said Renart. He was born and raised in Arlington, and this year is his first time participating in a ride like Tour de Friends.

RIDERS WILL DEPART from Raleigh, N.C., on Thursday, June 19 and come through Arlington three days later on the way to the finish line in the District.

Even though this is the first year for Tour de Friends, some riders see it as an extension of the famous AIDS Rides. Those rides, which followed the same route, raised money for AIDS research for eight years before its Los Angeles-based sponsor, Pallotta TeamWorks, closed shop last year.

Jay Douglas, who lives in Lorton but trains in Arlington, is afraid that the Tour de Friends may also soon met its end. Tour de Friends is not-for-profit, which Douglas says is an improvement over the for-profit Pallotta predecessor. But the transition hurt publicity, and Tour de Friends hasn?t been able to match the ridership of previous events.

Douglas worries that could spell trouble. ?It could be a failure. This could be the last AIDS ride? unless more riders join or more people contribute, he said.

UNCERTAINTY OVER the ride?s future has become a rallying point for some riders. Local resident Kelcey Smith couldn?t ride this year but wanted to help make the even as successful as some previous events in which he participated.

Local resident Kelcey Smith designed and donated Tour de Friends shirts to participants to cut down on operational expenses for organizers. Kelcey isn?t riding this year but has participated in several rides previously. He often joins other Arlington riders for weekly training rides.

?Tuesday hills is a tradition among the riders,? he said. ?There?s a lot more social aspect to the weekday rides.?

FOR DOUGLAS, the last AIDS ride would end an important chapter in his life. He has participated in similar events for the last seven years, cycling mile after mile in hopes that someday there will be a cure.

He has a simple reason for putting himself through the grueling training year after year. ?Because I?m still alive,? he said. Douglas has been HIV-positive for over 20 years.

That makes Douglas a source of inspiration for others. ?He?s our hero,? says Martinez. Many participants are HIV-positive, Martinez says, and they help motivate her when training seems overwhelming.

?They?re probably tired and sick and maybe nauseous from their medication, and they?re fighting this disease and riding these hills?and what?s my excuse?? she said.