VAIL, Colorado - Joel Fritz wanted to celebrate his 70th birthday in high style, so he rode his bicycle from Canada to Mexico.
By the numbers, the ride rolled like this:
• 1,800 miles.
• 18 days, 2 hours, 43 minutes.
• 85,000 vertical feet of climbing.
He and Erik Brofos raised about a dollar for every foot they climbed for the fight against pediatric AIDS, and it all started with a dust-up at the Canadian border.
There was this Canadian border guard who got his knickers in a twist when Fritz and Brofos, on the first day, wound up mistakenly riding around the border guard building without anyone knowing it. They didn't even show up on the video tape. The Canadian had lots to say about it, as Fritz listened politely, finally asking where the border guard thought a 70-year-old man might hide a bomb or other terrorist device under all that Lycra.
You know these guys. Fritz showed up in Vail in 1963, and Brofos was in Vail Mountain School's first graduating class, four kids in 1976.
When they decided to ride along America's spine from Canada to Mexico, they had no idea there were so many different types of chip seal or that as highway budgets get tighter, crews are narrowing the chip seal paths they lay down. They learned you can fall a foot and a half from some roads because the chip seal is built up so high.
They had 10 flat tires on the way. Miraculously, Fritz ended the trip with the same rear tire he started with.
They rolled from the Canadian border to Mexico, instead of from sea to shining sea because it's harder.
"It demonstrates that we are willing to suffer to help those who are suffering," Fritz said.
A bicycle seat is like sitting on the blunt end of a baseball bat, and they did it for more than 18 days. Still, Fritz said there's no comparison.
"It's nothing compared to a 6-year-old who has never known anything but suffering," he said. "No matter how much we might have wanted to quit, we knew we couldn't."
Some of the money goes to Eagle County families struggling with AIDS, and everyone dealing with it struggles, Fritz said. Some of it goes to Children's Hospital in Denver.
The drug cocktail costs $900 to $1,500 per person, per month, Fritz said. If three people in the household are taking it, they're spending as much as $4,500 per month before they pay rent, buy food or put gas in a car, if they can afford a car.
"Most often, it's a single parent," Fritz said. "At least one parent has to be infected for the child to get it. That means that at least one parent is possibly dead or at least incapacitated."
Children have no defenses, Fritz said.
"If children are suffering and a parent dies, they are voiceless," Fritz said.
We know more about AIDS than we ever have, and we're learning more every day, Fritz said.
Fritz knows about it because it's personal.
A member of Fritz's family is HIV positive, so he knows what it is to live with AIDS. He's heard everything from AIDS being the world's most preventable disease to blaming some government for not doing something. Kids can go to school, but they have to deal with other people biases, prejudices and hate.
"People cast aspersions, like it's something these children have done to themselves on purpose," Fritz said.
Then there's the misinformation and misconceptions. Because we see HIV victims living longer and more healthy lives, people think the disease is on the wane, Fritz said. It's not.
"There's no cure, and the rates of infection are growing," Fritz said.
He came up with endurance cycling and 10 years ago did his first border-to-border ride from Canada to Mexico.
"At that time, I was 60. It seemed like a good idea," he said.
It still does.
"I'm the oldest in my family, and it falls to the oldest to do something about things - or try to," Fritz said. "I'm beyond the point of being frustrated about this. We do what we can do, and we can do this."
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.