Chuck Podgurski

My first bike was red. It had a banana seat and long handlebars. I loved that thing. I rode it all the time growing up, around the neighborhood, through the woods, exploring as far as I could. It was my escape. Sometimes it turned into ’69 Plymouth Fury when we played cops… I may have been the last one picked on most backyard football games, but I could get on my bike and ride like a maniac!

As an adult in New York City, I tooled around Manhattan for exercise on my road bike. I wasn’t Captain Safety back then. I don’t know what I was thinking. For 20 years here in Atlanta, I rode a hybrid each day, mostly to burn off work stress. I’ve always enjoyed my cycling; just me and my thoughts and a sturdy bike.

Then I met Jonny Wood three years ago; speed-demon Jonny Wood, who did marathons and rode his bike 40 and 50 miles. He invited me one weekend to ride with a mutual friend of ours. Ummm..yeah, I couldn’t really keep up.  I kept riding though, each weekend that summer… 20 or 25 miles, eventually without Jonny since he started training for yet another marathon… or at least that’s what he told me. Poor guy spent a lot of ride time waiting for me at the top of hills.

me & jonny! top fundraisers for 2011… can we repeat it this year?

Anyway, I was hooked on the purposed ride. January 2011, Jonny invited me to an AV200 Rider Recruitment event. I thought it was just some party. As I met one nice, upbeat person after another, I began to hear about the ride itself and why people were involved. On the way out, Jonny asked if I wanted to do the ride with him. Now, I’m usually unbelievably analytical about the commitments I make and I’m ok with that. But for some reason, in that moment, my gut told me to commit. So I did. Right then.  I was in. What’s really funny is that I told him, “But I don’t want to spend lots and lots of money on cycling equipment.” Yeah, right. Of course, now, two bikes later, I look back and … well you know.

“cool people” I’ve met…
(this photo & caption was inserted by the editor who may or may not be in this photo…)

So, the ride last year, all the training before and since, all the people I’ve met through it, the fact that the money raised actually makes a difference — each has been an incredible gift, an amazing part of my life’s journey. I love that cycling is a metaphor for life: There are hills and valleys; there are limits to be acknowledged and there are limits to be blown apart; sometimes you succeed with the help of your friends and sometimes you succeed by digging down deep inside yourself and pulling up what you didn’t think you had. Cycling has helped heal me in so many ways. I love it. I love it. I love it.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now let’s talk about fundraising. If there’s any area in which I don’t care what anyone thinks about me, it’s my fundraising. I’m not saying it’s healthy or unhealthy, but I ended up sending emails to EVERYONE on my contact list. I didn’t care who they were. Last year when donations started coming in, I was absolutely shocked. Then I sent out a few more emails. Then I got more donations. And then it was all out. I got drunk with success. I got donations from people I hadn’t seen in years and even a few I hadn’t met. This year I sent out over 500 emails. Basically, donations are like heroin to me! I can’t get enough. Healthy? Unhealthy? Who’s to say? Ok, maybe the American Psychiatric Association. But please don’t worry. I plan to find a 12-step program for whatever this is, soon after the ride.

chuck_family_SOM

team chuck! my cousin Neen and her husband Tony with me at the end of day two

Alright, all joking aside, let’s get back to the reason I ride.  I’m actually dedicating this year’s ride once more to three dear, sweet men who were my friends, who passed much too young, who I miss very deeply, who would probably still be here if we had a vaccine: Andy Cannon, Jim Buccalo and Kerry Schwoyer.

Sometimes I talk to them when I train. Sometimes I picture them next to me when I’m struggling up a hill. Mostly I think of all the people who will live when a vaccine is discovered.

-Chuck

what UPS wanted to say in their ads

m.lambert

giving UPS a run for their money: mark lambert, logistics guru

I remember my first steering committee meeting where I described myself as a logistics whore. I had not seen the latest UPS commercial series entitled, “UPS Hearts Logistics”, but someone in the room blurted out, “That’s what UPS really wanted to say!” And there it started; my time with the AV200 making sure once you leave the School of Medicine on Saturday morning that you get back to Emory 36 hours later all in one piece… happy and brimming with satisfaction with your accomplishments.

Well, OK, I cannot directly help you with the warm, fuzzy feeling of accomplishment, but my team can ensure that you are hydrated, fed and safe. Achieving this outcome takes many people and many hours of preparation and coordination. My experience comes from 11 years on the operations committee of Atlanta Pride. There the party is for 300k people and stays in one place. The AV200 is 0.001 the size and moves constantly. Ah, I love a good challenge. As do the 8 Lead Volunteers that make sure the work gets done right. Let me offer you a few names you can drop along the route.

The first two guys that most of you will never see leave Emory about the time you are eating breakfast. Rich Allen and Gordon Low head up the Distribution Group. They are dropping coolers filled with water, Powerade and ice, food, tables, and chairs to the 6 pit stops you will visit along the route. This is their second year doing distribution and the timing of the whole thing begins with them. You’ll see them at Rock Eagle Saturday night.

Your next encounter will be with Colin Wright and the 20 or so Support and Gear (SAG) specialists. These are the ones you will depend on the most over the entire route. While you are concentrating on the road and pedaling hard each mile, they are focused on you and your well-being. If you look like you are about to fall out they will tell you to drink more water. If you fall or are in an accident they will respond. If you are lost…well that is where that wristband comes in – CALL THE NUMBER ON IT! The SAG folks cannot help you if you get lost so know where your cue sheets are, note the signage and if you are AT ALL not sure you are still on the route, chances are you’re not. The number on the wristband is a Google Voice number and will ring about 5 different cell phones, including Colin’s. Please use it!

Speaking of arrows and getting lost, David Haynes and John Crocker are transportation geeks (I say that with reverence) and they are your Wayfinding Leads. Their job is to do everything possible to make sure you do not lose your way on the route. Signage goes out on the Thursday before the Ride and is checked before you leave out on Saturday morning and then all the signs have to be turned around once the last rider passes! (You do, after all, have to come back the same way you came). Consider the time it would take to move a popcorn trail from one side of the road to the other. All with a smile. David has also created a very thorough Google Earth file (on the AV200 Rider web page [look for the .kmz file]) Downloading this file and – assuming you have Google Earth (free download) – you can drill down on every section of the route. Hazards, obstacles, and busy sections of roadway are all marked for you. Study hard, girls and boys!

Then, you have a dizzying array of characters (I mean so quite literally) ready to help you off your bike and get you rested, watered, snacked, and entertained — all in the middle of rural Georgia. Chris Campbell and Erik Metzger are responsible for staffing and operating the 6 pit stops along the ride course. Apparently, as I hear it, the themes of the pit stops are highly confidential to avoid other groups from stealing ideas and, honestly, so that you all are pleasantly surprised when you arrive. Amid the jocularity, however, is one issue that the pit stop system takes very seriously; YOU MUST STOP AND GIVE YOUR NUMBER TO THE CHECK-IN CAPTAIN. By checking in at each pit stop, we know that you are not lost or worse, lying in a ditch. Yes, some of you will want to keep going and pass by a pit stop or two; we support you as long as you make sure that your number is checked off as you pass through. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE HELP US KEEP YOU SAFE.

Finally, when you get to Rock Eagle, Steven Eads, Jessi Arnidis, Chris Morter, and Jane Lawson will be there to greet you. I could give you a flowery description of the service you can expect, but think Marriott Marquis, just a little more rustic. Their job is to get your luggage and supplies to the camp, delivered to your cabins and still have time to make the place festive in time for the first rider to arrive. As usual the pool will be available throughout the afternoon and Jane will have some beer on ice.

Oh, by the way, if you are feeling like you need a doctor’s attention, e.g., you get stung, flip over your handle bars, dehydrate, etc., Dr. Rana Chakraborty, pediatric doc at the Grady IDP, will be on the route to assist you with any malady. In addition, I will have Dr. Jesse Cannon, E.R. doc from Emory University Hospital, backing up on Saturday and a surprise guest doc (code for I am still looking for one) to play back up on Sunday. All of these medical professionals will be on the route and will respond to emergencies at a moment’s notice. Help us help you by letting your nearest SAG wagon know if you are feeling sick, weak, or are in pain.

That is your logistics team.

Now, I need your help. If any of you have friends or loved ones that could support the event by creating a SAG team, I would be forever grateful. For the event to be safe, we need about 10 SAG vehicles patrolling the route. All you need is time and a vehicle capable of mounting a bike rack. Ideally, there should be two people for each vehicle; one to drive and one to coordinate and communicate. If you know of someone that is willing to SAG, please send an email to myself or to Colin. Our emails are: Mark.lambert@positiveimpact-atl.org and cwright.ee94@gtalumni.org

Looking forward to another fun, successful AV200! TEN DAYS and counting…

ride smart, ride safe

A cyclist was struck and killed by a pick-up truck early yesterday morning on N. Decatur Road, here in Atlanta. Paul Taylor, 53, was an active member of Oak Grove United Methodist Church and is survived by his wife and four children. As of this post, police are still investigating and we don’t know exactly how this happened. Paul was riding in the inside lane on a 4-lane street when he was struck.

News like this is always sobering and sad. Paul’s unfortunate untimely passing should serve as a reminder to us all who are riding the roads to ride smart and ride safe.

  • Ride with flashing tail lights and head lights for your bike if riding on busy streets – any time of the day.
  • ALWAYS wear a helmet – no exceptions – ever.
  • ALWAYS have identification.  (RoadID is highly recommended as you can register medical information to help first responders react as quickly as possible.  It also makes it easy for them to contact someone immediately for you.)
  • Stay as close to the right side of the road as you safely can.
  • Know your route well if riding in the early pre-sun hours.  Know where the pot-holes are that could cause you to crash.  If not safe, find another route.
  • NEVER ride with headphones, earbuds, etc. in your ears! Leave those i-anything, bluetooth earpieces, etc. at home or in  your pockets when riding so you can use all your senses.
While car drivers often get aggravated with cyclists, I don’t think there’s a driver out there that really wants to be behind the wheel of a story like this.  To keep this sobering event in perspective, there have probably been millions of miles traveled in Atlanta by cyclists in the last year and  this is the second story of a death that we can recall.  Wish the same could be said about automobiles. In Paul’s honor, be safe – not scared to ride – and use all of the gear and guidance to ride smart.
(written jointly by AV200 & Belva White)

cycling is a journey…

I was asked to write a small sentence or two talk about my thoughts on cycling….especially for the AV200.  I suppose many of us ride for different reasons: philanthropic, challenge, fundraising, togetherness, purpose.  The list could go on…… It occurred to me that riding is more than a just getting dressed in cycling gear and hammering out seemingly thousands of miles to get ready for two days of riding for a cause.  The cause is admittedly a good one, HIV/AIDS vaccine research. However, the real reason most of us ride is to put an end to AIDS!

To me, riding is a journey. I have to wonder about that journey though. Is the journey leading me away from something? Or, is the journey leading me towards something?  Whatever the end result, I find that when I am on the bike, I am participating in escape.  I have found that cycling allows me to leave the cares of my daily life behind… I can get away from the stressors of living and enjoy the open air. I can see parts of the city in ways that I could never see or experience by riding in a car. I can take part in fellowship with other riders who share some common interests. I can process my crazy rambling thoughts and make some sense of all that I am so unwilling to let go of in my head. I can forget, if only for a moment, the very real challenges associated with living that we all experience. So, in essence, my riding is a way to escape…to be free…if only for a few miles.

I suppose that cycling is a journey towards something. I am sure my legs are a bit stronger, my endurance has increased…maybe I am getting healthier?  Maybe I am advancing the cause of the cyclist? Becoming more visible to the Atlanta driver who seemingly loathes the cyclist? Maybe I am doing a part for the environment to cut down on smog…I am unsure of where I am heading, but I must have a goal that I am working towards!

As the journey relates to the AV200, I suppose I am cycling to honor the journey that the men and women who are living with HIV/AIDS are on. I imagine the weight of finding out that I have contracted HIV/AIDS. I can only imagine living with a disease that, for some, changes the appearance of a person, makes a person more susceptible to other illnesses, and challenges a person to think about their longevity. I imagine that some men and women living with HIV/AIDS have to deal with the shame that our society imposes upon them and difficulties of telling potential love interests about their status. I think of all of these things and so much more…no person should have to endure the hardships of living with HIV/AIDS. When I am on my bike, I am attempting to escape, just as a person who has HIV/AIDS may want to escape their disease…even if just for a little while.

My AV200 journey is ultimately for a single purpose. I ride towards putting an end to HIV/AIDS! We all have our own personal reasons for becoming involved in AV200, whether it is because we have lived vicariously through friends and loved ones who have suffered with HIV/AIDS. Or, because we believe that nobody should have to suffer getting HIV/AIDS. Whatever the reason, we are all on this shared journey. A journey towards ending the impact of this disease on all those who have it and the many people whose lives are impacted by knowing and caring about someone who is living with HIV/AIDS. I believe that my journey is a journey shared by all us who are cycling for a purpose, cycling for a cause, cycling to find a cure.

Hope for all,

Paul
cyclist, activist, and the best friend to someone living with AIDS for 25 years

one month and counting…

For the next couple of weeks leading up to the 2012 ride, we asked members of the AV200 community to share their stories on (or off) the road with us. Not only are their stories inspirational, but we wanted each of you to feel a connection to the individuals who work tirelessly to make this ride a reality regardless of where you are in the world! We hope that you find their words to be inspiring (or at the very least, entertaining) and visit us regularly as we approach the BIG TEN ride! Plus… you never know — we might throw in a incentive contest here or there, or some good tips for the rookies 🙂  See you on the road soon!