MADISON (WKOW) -- The mood on Capitol Square Sunday afternoon was one of accomplishment.
"Unbelievable. It's exhilarating. It's exhilarating," said rider Lana Chute.
A festive and emotional atmosphere greeted 150 bicyclists, 92 crew members, and other volunteers as they cross a finish line on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in downtown Madison.
As part of the 300-mile tour in four days in southern Wisconsin, riders endured miles of hills, a day and a half of rain, then lightning, hail, heat, and humidity. The difficulties did not stop their mission.
"They believe in our organization and they have exactly what we do for people infected with HIV and AIDS in our 13 county area. Because of that and because of the community. It's such a really strong community of helping each other," says AIDS Network Executive Director Karen Dotson.
No one has typified these last four days better than one first-time rider who gave many cyclists the motivation to keep pedaling.
Brett Schuhart is HIV-positive and has twice had major back and neck surgery. He challenged himself to finish, and he did.
"There were times I thought I was not going to make it. I can't go through with it, but everyone with me pulled me through...they pulled me through the winds, through the rain, we pulled each other through the tough times," Schuhart says.
"It means the world to me. I didn't think he'd come this far. I'm just so proud of him. Words are beyond me," says Elissa Schuhart, Brett's mother.
Nearly everyone on the ride knows someone touched by HIV and AIDS. That's why each day ended with 'Rider Zero.' A riderless bicycle is walked across the finish line to symbolize those who lost their lives to AIDS.
The cause, and the sense of community during the event, are reasons why supporting AIDS Network.
Many have already signed up for next year's ride.
This years ACT/AIDS Ride raised $300,260. That breaks the record for the most money raised before the event. Riders are allowed to raise more money a few weeks after.
The AIDS Network plans to open a food pantry later this month and a dental clinic around the first of the year.
Email Carl Agnelly at firstname.lastname@example.org