Roberts set to ride for relief | AspenTimes.com

Roberts set to ride for relief

John Colson

Mark Fox/The Aspen TimesHoping to raise money along the way, Helen Roberts of Aspen will start a 1,500-mile bicycle trip to Louisiana on Saturday.

An Aspen woman will be setting out this week on a marathon bicycle ride that was supposed to be a vacation but has turned into a mission of mercy.Helen Roberts, 43, will be leaving town Saturday for southern Louisiana. She hopes to raise money both here at home and in towns along the way to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.Before she leaves, she will take part in a fund-raising event at the Blue Maize restaurant in Aspen on Tuesday night. The restaurant is joining several others in donating a portion of the night’s proceeds to the hurricane relief effort.And Saturday morning, riding a new Cannondale bicycle and pulling a Burley trailer behind her, Roberts will head over Independence Pass to Colorado Springs, then on to Dodge City, Kansas, and make a beeline for Baton Rouge, La. Roberts, who has lived off and on in Aspen for 19 years, came here from her native England because “I wanted to live in a small, high-altitude ski town in America,” she said.

A few years ago she relocated to the California wine country for a time before moving back to Aspen, and that was originally where she was heading on her bicycle trip. She started planning and training last March, with the goal of “visiting friends and getting in shape. I haven’t seen my cheeks or my hip bones in several years.”But then Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast like a sledgehammer, and she found herself in an emotional tailspin over the gripping images and tales of devastation and loss.She recalled reading a story that brought her to tears and said, “I just kept crying and crying. I had to so something. I decided I couldn’t read any more Katrina stories, because it was too emotional.”But then the idea hit her – she should do something to help.”And that was it,” she declared. “I had a f***ing epiphany!”

So she changed directions, geographically and in terms of purpose, and started planning an entirely new ride.She has contacted the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, based at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, which was recently set up expressly to deal with the hurricane’s aftermath. A friend, Jess Elliott of Aspen, will be acting as her publicist, contacting newspapers and other media outlets along the route.A website is being set up for her nonprofit organization, “The Heart Ride” (her nickname is Helen Heart), a Wells Fargo bank account by the same name has been set up to accept donations, and she has an e-mail address, theheartride@hotmail.com, to keep in touch with Elliott, friends and supporters.She has already gotten a letter of endorsement from Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis and will be seeking another from Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud. She will be giving interviews and collecting money along the way, staying in hotels at each stop. At the end of the 28-day, 1,500-mile ride, she will turn over all donations (she’s paying her travel costs herself), and the bicycle and Burley, to the BRAF.Her goal along the way, she said, is “to keep as high a profile as possible,” and she is hoping that Elliott can get reporters to cover her odyssey as she advances.

She plans to convince all the people she meets, even those who may already have donated money to help Katrina’s victims, that giving a little more would be a good thing.”I guess I’ve always been a little emotional,” she remarked, recalling that as a child she once burst into tears over “The Helen Keller Story,” earning her considerable ribbing from her classmates.This time, though, she expects no one will be teasing her at all.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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