AIDS ride will take Polt around Alaska; Outdoors


Most of us are just starting to work out the kinks after a winter of being one with the couch. I, for example, made a deep impression on the family room love seat.

But Rich Polt never took the winter months off. Polt, a Pikesville native, is prepping for a 510-mile ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage in August.

The six-day event is the Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride, one of 13 fund-raisers produced by the Los Angeles-based company Pallotta TeamWorks. The 1,600 riders signed up for the Alaska adventure are collecting donations to help researchers develop an AIDS vaccine.

Polt got hooked on charitable biking for bucks in 1998, when a friend enlisted him for the three-day Boston-to-New York AIDS ride. He borrowed his uncle's 12-speed Bridgestone and "threw myself into it -- sink or swim.

"I don't have any close experiences with AIDS, and I haven't lost anyone close to me from AIDS. But riding from Boston to New York, I got taken by the power of the cause," he says.

Polt became a certified instructor last year at LifeBridge Health and Fitnesss in Baltimore County, teaching spinning, the high-intensity stationary bike exercise. When the Alaska ride was announced, he signed up.

Last weekend, LifeBridge let him hold a fund-raiser, where Polt took donors on a 90-minute spinning tour of Alaska, showing slides of scenery and wildlife similar to what he will encounter.

Polt has raised about $2,500 of the $3,900 he has committed to raising for the AIDS ride. He is paying his own expenses -- air fare, the shipping of his bike, equipment and training.

The 27-year-old is in good shape, except for a chronic bad back. That gives him pause, especially knowing that Day Two is 70 miles with a 2,000-foot gain in altitude.

"I'm a little nervous," he admits. "I've never biked six straight days under those conditions. But when you see the people around you, see their commitment, see them pushing themselves to the limit, it's inspirational."

To sponsor Polt, send a donation to P.O. Box 5751, Baltimore, MD., 21282. Make checks payable to Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride.

Rule of the road: safety first

Hanging on the wall of Horizon Cycles on York Road is a mangled bike. The front wheel looks like a pretzel, the frame is bent about four inches. The bike once belonged to Polt, but now it's a reminder that safety counts.

Shop owner Marty Artes says Polt was lucky to escape his auto encounter with a cut knee.

Artes says bicyclists should go over safety basics and road courtesy before setting out this spring, and if they have children, they should get the same drill:

If you have a helmet, wear it. If you don't, spend the $30.

Buy a pair of gloves for $15. "You'll get a better grip, it's good padding and it takes care of the 'oops factor,' " he says. "After taking a spill, would you rather brush off the gloves or pick gravel out of your palms?"

Pack a small first aid kit consisting of gauze pads, tape and adhesive strips. Take a flashlight with you, too.

Make sure the reflectors -- white in front and red in the back -- are in one piece. Consider spending $10 on a rear flasher to give you a little extra protection if you get caught riding when the sun goes down, says Artes.

As for the bike, Jeremy Goetz at REI College Park says if you're pulling it out of the garage for the first time, do the following: Clean and inspect the chain, the chain rings and sprockets.

Check sprockets, toe clips and tires for wear. Check tire pressure.

Lubricate the chain, cable controls and pivot points.

Tighten crank bolts, brake assembly and seat.

Check the brakes to ensure nothing is rubbing. Wet a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol and run it along the brake pads. Inspect the grooves in the brake pads; if you can't see them, they're worn through and need replacing.

Look for stress and wear on the frame.

Wipe the bike down before your first ride and after every ride.

Next Sunday, REI College Park teams up with College Park Area Bicycle Coalition, sponsors for the 12th annual spring ride, starting at 9 a.m. from the store on Rhode Island Avenue.

The tour covers two loops of 12 to 15 miles, and will be accompanied by police officers on bicycles. REI technicians will provide safety checks. Call 301-982-9681.

Off-roading it

If off-road biking is more to your liking, pick up a copy of "Mountain Bike America," for the Washington/Baltimore region, now in its third edition.

The book ($17.95) contains detailed descriptions and maps for 27 Maryland rides, 11 in Northern Virginia and two in the District.

Authors and local cyclists Martin Fernandez and Scott Adams take a lot of the surprises out of the trails around here.

Full circle

Day One was technical. Day Two, painful. Day Three, memorable.

Craig Law, the Catonsville kayaker who got one last chance at an Olympic moment, may not have brought home the gold. But he did bring home the satisfaction of finishing what he started.

The 40-year-old finished the three-day Olympic whitewater slalom trials 41 spots behind winner Scott Shipley.

Law, who retired from the sport as a young man to be a family man, pushed himself to get back in shape for competition and qualified to compete at the trials on the Ocoee River in Tennessee last weekend.

After two runs that required precision paddling on Friday, Law and the others were forced to deal Saturday with a brutal course that attempted to answer the question "How much pain can you endure?" he says.

The temperature dropped from 80 to 35 degrees, with sleet and high winds, "and I spent more time underwater than above," he says.

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