Paynesville native completes AIDS bike ride

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 07/29/97.

After their son, Peter, died of AIDS two years ago, Harold and Pat Thielen, Paynesville, talked about taking part in the first Twin Cities to Chicago AIDS ride. They heard about the ride at a memorial service.

This year, the ride became a reality for Harold, better known as Harry. He made the commitment to ride at a neighbor-hood Christmas party. In January, Harry started training on a stationary bike for the 1997 AIDS ride from his home. When the weather got nicer, he started riding outdoors.

He tried to ride around Lake Koronis twice. The hills on the second time around were hard, Harry said. Then he expanded his route to include Atwater and back to Paynesville, then Grove City and back and before he knew it he was making the entire trip easily. I think I rode over a 1,000 miles this summer training for the AIDS ride, Harry said.

The AIDS ride was held July 7 to 12. About 1,631 bicycle riders and a 500- member support crew left the Minneapolis Convention Center at 6:30 a.m. on the first leg of their journey. On day one, they rode 102.9 miles and camped for the night at Wabasha. Day two ended at Sparta, Wis., 95.6 miles down the road. Day three took them to Reedsburg, Wis., 56.3 miles away. Day four had the bikers heading to McFarland, Wis., 75.8 miles away. The last leg of the ride was only 71 miles and ended at Daley Bicentennial Plaza in Chicago.

Harry was one of 16 on the ride 60 years old and older. Pat, his wife, was part of the support crew, helping where needed. Her day usually started at 4:30 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m. daily. Each rider was assigned a number. Harry was number 384. Each rider also had to complete a safety course. If they didnt, they were not allowed to go on the ride.

Each rider was given a book giving them directions. The book also listed how far it was between each turn and pit stop. Once in a while, fellow bikers would yell at other riders making a wrong turn and get them back on the right route, he said.

They had pit stops every 15 miles. Each pit stop had a theme such as Elvis Day, Pleasure Pit, Back to the 50s, and the Cheering Station, Harry said. At each pit stop were doctors, chiropractors, massagers, and musicians. Four ambulances also went along on the trip in case of emergencies.

Day one had a lot of big hills, Pat said. At the top of the hills, Harry had a cheering section to help see that he made the hills. I made all the hills, he added. I also did a lot of day dreaming and thinking while riding.

On day three, we had to ride 60 miles on dirt roads because of highway construction, Harry added. That was also the day we had to ride through two tunnels. It was raining just as hard in the tunnels as outside.

At Sparta, people were hired to help dry out clothing and sleeping bags that had gotten wet the night before.

Rudy Conger, an Olympic team massager and trainer, became a vital person for many on the trip. Each morning starting at 4:30 a.m., he would be wrapping knees of riders. Harry really appreciated his help, Pat said. At night, riders would often come to the tent to see if Harry was okay and if his knees had survived the day.

Both Harry and Pat wore a picture of their son. Many people would ask about Peter and they would tell them their story. The ride was a very emotional time for many. A lot of bonding took place between the riders. Everybody shared their stories of loved ones who had AIDS or who had died of AIDS, they said.

The couple said the closing ceremony was extremely emotional. Harry rode up to the ceremony behind a paraplegic and a girl with an artificial leg from the knee down.

Many of the riders lifted up the paraplegic and his bike at the ceremony. He helped motivate a lot of people throughout the ride, Harry said. There was also a riderless bike in the ceremony symbolizing the 370,000 people who have died from AIDS.

Upon his arrival back at work at Paper, Calmenson and Company, St. Paul, he was given a reception. The cake even had a bicycle on it, Harry said. I had a lot of support from the people at work.

In order to make the ride, each participant was required to raise $2,300. Harry raised over $2,900 for the ride, from his sponsors.Forty people from Texas to North Carolina to Arizona made the ride possible for me. An Atwater woman was also on the ride, Harry said.

The ride is an experience a person will never forget. Every town was lined with signs and people giving us encouragement, Harry said. The couple found the trip helped the healing process.

Return to Archives