Hundreds of bikes are parked at the Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena in preparation for the 330-mile ride, which will raise money for two organizations that help people who have AIDS.
More than 1,700 bikers are expected to make the journey, and many of the cyclists in this fifth annual AIDS ride to Washington, D.C. are not athletes or even bikers. Some of them bought their first bikes to participate. To get ready, Byron Brady of Raleigh has ridden more than 1,000 miles since March. Brady says he will be riding in memory of four friends who have died of AIDS.
"Not a day goes by that I don't think of all four of them," he says. "They were close. Three were college classmates, one [was] a childhood friend."
When 18-year-old Sarah Simpson asked her father, Cary Pediatrician Mark Simpson, to ride with her, he thought it would be a good bonding experience.
"She said, 'Dad, you really need to do this. It's going to be the experience of a lifetime,'" he remembers. "She's getting ready to go off to college, so we're not going to have too many more chances. I thought this would be a good one."
All riders must watch a road safety video, but if they have an accident or a problem along the route, a medical crew is on standby.
"We have about 90 medical team members and we try to spread ourselves out along the route and in camp," says medical team manager Scott Barefoot. "We try to keep tabs on everyone. If we see someone in trouble, we steer them to a treatment area."
Steering the bikers through the ride is also the work of hundreds of volunteers; some have been part of the planning process for a year.
"We've got a well-oiled machine," says ride director Jessica Ibacache. "We have a fabulous group of volunteers."
As hard as volunteers and riders will work, they say it does not compare to the battle fought by people who have HIV and AIDS.
"Even though it's difficult and painful, it's not anything more than they endure every day of their lives," Brady says.
The riders leave at 6 a.m. Thursday and will arrive in the nation's capital Sunday.
The ride is expected to raise about $4.5 million for the charities involved. In order to do that, each rider had to raise a minimum of $2,000.