Billie Kanter Pedals For AIDS Services

Billie Kanter
Billie Kanter
For three years, Billie Kanter's friend Debbie Powers rode in the California AIDS Ride, a fund-raising event for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. This summer, the two decided to ride together. When Powers was unable to go, Kanter decided this was her year to ride—and ride she would.

Over 2,000 cyclists left San Francisco on June 6, rode down the California coast and coastal valleys, and arrived in Los Angeles on June 12. Each rider solicited sponsor donations. "I envisioned that if 300 people gave ten dollars, I would have the money without any trouble," said Kanter. Then, her very first sponsor gave her $100, and apologized for not contributing more. "I was overwhelmed."

This was only the first of many moving experiences Kanter had. The ride itself took her through a section of California she didn't know well. In her thank-you letter to supporters she wrote, "I smelled fragrant strawberry and onion fields, reveled in miles of undeveloped coastline, gagged at huge homes I define as evidence of residential clear-cutting, steadied myself against the suction of passing land jets, rode as fast as I could down the hills, encouraged riders I passed, and genuinely delighted in each day. Sun, solitude, meeting new people, food, showers, and outdoor exercise—my kind of holiday."

While riding was fun, the serious purpose of the trip was always close at hand. Each morning began with a newsletter filled with the day's events and inspirational stories, such as the explanation that the riderless bike accompanying one cyclist symbolized his orphaned nephew and thousands of HIV positive children.

The logistics of moving over 2,000 people down California required medical teams, a fleet of rental trucks, as well as crews of cooks, tent-keepers, and rest stop snack providers. Riders were greeted each evening with a designated tent site, dinner, and, sometimes, entertainment. The campsites had to be large enough to accommodate riders and crews sleeping two to a tent. The coastal town of Oceano closed a small airport for the night so people could camp on the runways.

The rest stop crews kept everyone's spirits up with their good humor and colorful costumes, such as the group that dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland. Each rest stop provided Gaterade and Cliff Bars in abundance. In addition to the official crews, some supporters along the way set up rest stops. A group from Santa Barbara had ridden last year and this year decided to provide the snacks they'd craved: Snapple, six flavors of ice cream, hot dogs, strawberries. Other people came out to wave and encourage the riders. In some communities, schoolteachers brought their students to line the roads.

Kanter does not think of herself as a hero, and is quick to point out the other Chico State cyclists. Powers, who was a temporary faculty member in Sociology and Social Work and Health and Community Services, rode in past years, and this year Cheryl Ashenbach, an assistant softball coach, also rode. As Kanter pedaled through Santa Monica, "I realized I had made it! I started to cry, but quickly thought about the two paraplegics and the twenty-five to thirty HIV positive riders who also rode. They were the heroes."

As she talked about the ride, Kanter's eyes filled. "It impacted me for the rest of my life," she said. She plans on riding again next year. "When you can do something you really enjoy, and has benefits for another, that's about perfect. Doing a personal good doing a social good. Can't get better than that."


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