Coast to Coast
Barry Haarde, the remarkable HIV, Hepatitic C and Hemophilia long time survivor has just ridden across North America on his bike. Now back at his home in Houston, Texas, Bob Leahy catches up with him to talk about his ride.
Bob Leahy: You did it. Congratulations, Barry. But for those of our readers who haven’t been following you from the beginning, tell us what “it” was.
Barry Haarde: “It” was a 3,700 mile bicycle ride across America that began in Astoria, Oregon on June 17th and concluded in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on the 6th of August. The ride was a fundraising effort for Save One Life, an organization that provides financial and medical assistance to people with hemophilia in developing nations where there is little or no access to treatment.
So how did it feel at the finish? You dipped your bike in the Atlantic Ocean, right? Was it emotional?
I expected it to be, but we had so much excitement at the finish, there wasn’t much time for reflection. You see, my chain broke two miles from the staging area where all the riders and the support staff were supposed to meet before riding the final two miles to the beach with a police escort. I had to hop on my good friend, Laurie Kelley’s bike to get there. Laurie, the founder of Save One Life, the charity I was riding for, had joined us for the last day. The support van picked up Laurie and my bike and Jim, our tour mechanic, put on a new chain for me before I arrived at the meeting place. I made the whole tour 10 minutes late, but got there just in time to roll out to the beach in Portsmouth where we had our final wheel-dipping ceremony in the waters of the Atlantic. So, it made for a frantic but exciting finish!
What kind of shape were you in by then, Barry? Sore?
All the riders seemed to get stronger as the ride progressed. Many of us had a good case of saddle-sores by the end of the first week, but I found that a liberal dose of A & D diaper rash ointment was all I needed to patch that up. The legs held up well and I would have been perfectly content to turn my bike around and ride right back to Astoria, were it not for the fact that my job and the real world awaited me back in Houston.
How did you feel your medical condition (HIV and hemophilia) affected your ride?
I felt no effects at all. I had meds, taken at regular intervals, to control any bleeding episodes that might arise from the hemophilia. The only things that bugged me were the peripheral neuropathy in my feet, which hurt a lot on days with over a hundred miles of riding, and my knee replacement would sometimes feel stiff in the mornings.
Did you, either before or during the ride, ever feel you had bitten off more than you could chew?
Not even once. Before the ride began, I was a little worried about the climbs we would encounter. There were a number of days which featured over 5,000 feet of climbing, such as our ascent of Teton Pass and the days we climbed the Continental Divide and Mount Rushmore. I managed it, though, and only had to resort to the tube of Ben-Gay a couple of times!
So what would you describe as your biggest challenges on this trip?
Occasionally, there would be days where there wasn’t too much in the way of scenery to photograph or things to do along the way and on those days the riders would group up and just hammer into the next town. I would try to ride in with the tour’s quickest riders, which was a bit taxing, but a heck of a lot of fun. There was a younger girl named Ainslee from Australia, who I referred to as our “saucy Aussie” who could climb like nobody’s business and I put myself in no small amount of bother chasing her up one hill after another.
I think some of the riders and the tour staff were a bit surprised to learn that someone with my extensive list of medical issues could often hang in with the best in the group, but in essence, that was the very point I was there to make in the first place.
And the best things that happened?
The best things...hmmm, there were so many. I’d have to say that the best part had to be the people I met; the riders with whom I laughed and smiled more in the last seven weeks than I have in the last few years; the hemophilia and HIV community members, some of whom drove nearly four hours to come out and meet me; the people who encouraged me and made donations to my fundraising effort, and then of course, there was the pride that comes from knowing that I had ridden a bicycle all the way across this magnificent landscape that we call America.
I do have one particularly poignant memory, though- it was actually two days after the tour was over. I had remained in New England for a couple of days so that I could ride in Maine and Massachusetts, which were not on the tour route, but close by, so I could check off a couple of more states on my list. Laurie and I went out for a leisurely spin up the coast of Maine. It was a stunningly beautiful day and we saw some of the most amazing scenery you could ever imagine. Just before we reached Nubble Lighthouse, we encountered a couple who were out for a drive in their 1930 Ford roadster. We got to chatting and they let us sit in their car for a picture, which I think is my favorite of the whole tour. Laurie and I went for breakfast afterward and talked a lot about what drove her to devote her life to providing for people with hemophilia in places in the world where there are no medications or even basic necessities and the people suffer terribly. We talked about the adversities we had faced and how they had led us to many of the same conclusions. We talked about what was really important in this life and for the first time, I felt that this amazing and resourceful woman, whose life and work I had admired for decades, had suddenly become not just my hero, but my friend. It is for moments like those and people like these, that we endure the struggles in our lives and the immeasurable pain that we are sometimes called to endure. The ride up the coast was such a beautiful one, that it instilled in Laurie a whole new passion for cycling and that is always a great thing to share. I think she’ll be up there riding again very soon!
Tell me about the Canadian leg.
We only had a couple of days to ride north of the border, in Ontario. We crossed over the Bluewater Bridge - they closed it down just for us for to cross from Port Huron. Matthew Maynard, from Hemophilia Ontario as well as the local director of HIV/AIDS services in London, Ontario came out to visit. I found myself wondering if there were any bike tours across Canada that I could consider, but I think because of the vast distance across and the many remote miles in between towns, that there probably are no such tours available. I’ll have to look into that!
Did you achieve your goals in terms of what you wanted to get out of this trip?
We fell short of our fundraising goal and I was a little disappointed that more people, even friends, did not financially support or even offer encouragement for an effort of this magnitude - especially in light of all I’ve had to overcome in life to pull this off, but things like that are beyond my control.
In the “achievement of a personal goal” department, this ride had no equal and I’ll have to think hard about how I’m going to top it! I think maybe another coast-to-coast tour at a considerably faster pace and setting a goal of cycling through every state in the U.S. might be the way to go. That could keep me busy for a number of years!
Would you describe this as the craziest thing you’ve ever done? If not, what was?
Laurie and I share a favorite quote by Teddy Roosevelt: “It is better to dare great things and fail, than to forever live in that grey twilight which knows not victory, nor defeat.” For most of my life, I largely hid out from the world, playing it safe, not taking chances, and generally keeping my head down and laying low. Disabilities of any kind, especially HIV, with the stigma and ignorance surrounding it, can drive people into the closet in many ways. Riding a bike across America may have been crazy, but it was the ultimate act of denial and a statement of defiance against those who treated us with prejudice and bigotry in the past.
August 28th will be the 25th anniversary of the day when the Ray family’s home in Arcadia, Florida was burned to the ground because the three Ray boys, Ricky, Robert, and Randy were hemophiliacs diagnosed with AIDS. The neighbors wanted to drive them out of town. I think most of your readers will also remember Ryan White and what he and many others were put through. The persecution of people in the gay community was as bad or worse. I lived in the shadow of those events for decades, and perhaps, even though I have been public about my HIV status since the summer of 2008, the ride across America was the ultimate act of “breaking away” from all that, to the degree to which it is possible.
Do you have a message for people living with HIV who feel limited by their condition?
Yeah, “Don’t!” With the medications we have today and the changes in society’s attitudes about those with the disease, there is no need to feel limited. No one should deliberately put themselves at risk for HIV or engage in unsafe practices that put themselves in harms way. I never had a choice about HIV, but today, everyone does. But, if a diagnosis is made, then one must go on and still try to live their lives. It’s not easy - but as I and others have clearly shown, it is very do-able.
What’s next for Barry?
I’ve set a goal of cycling through every state in the U.S., which ought to keep me busy for a few years! I also have a couple of rides lined up in the near future. In late September, I’ll be doing a three-day trail ride down the Potomac River for the Hemophilia Federation of America, and then in October, I’ll be doing an eight-day tour of Texas with a hand-picked team of 12 riders for the organ sharing and blood donation network here.
In conclusion, I’d like to acknowledge and thank Baxter Biosciences for coming on board as our presenting sponsor, my managers at Hewlett Packard for facilitating the time off required for the trip, Laurie Kelley and the staff at Save One Life for making it all possible, the fantastic staff at America By Bicycle for getting us all the way down the road, and all the people who offered encouragement along the way and contributed to the fundraising effort.
I’ll be sure to keep in touch with PositiveLite.com as the miles unfold. Until next time, keep the rubber side down!