Feeling better from swimming and determined to return to outdoor activity, in 2002 Messer decided to take a much more strenuous plunge. She signed up for a cycling ride down the California coast for an AIDS charity using a joint-friendly, recumbent road trike she ordered online. Her husband, Bruce, who commutes back and forth from Colorado Springs, Colo., to work as a builder, supported his wife’s new hobby despite the expense.

Money in the Messer family was tighter due to her leaving her job and her medical expenses, and the trike cost $2,500. She was undeterred. “I made a deal with my husband. Since I can’t drive my car anymore, we’re saving all this money, so can I buy this trike?” she recalls. “It was a big deal to us. But he knew I was going nuts, because I had always been active and had always traveled.”

Once Messer’s trike was shipped from Australia, she started training, and in 2002 she rode in that first charity race, a seven-day, 575-mile race down the beautiful coast of California. “It opened up the world! You can’t describe it.”

Her mother followed her progress and later sent Messer an article about another race, the California Coast Classic, a similar ride down the west coast that raised money for the Arthritis Foundation’s research and awareness programs. This race was the perfect blend for Messer of riding and camping outdoors and a cause that was highly personal. She registered and rode her first of eight California Coast Classic rides. Bruce has joined Pat for three of those trips – although she says it’s not his favorite idea for a vacation - and she’s met many friends on these rides as well.

“People on a charity ride are so different than people on a vacation ride. They want to help. Everyone is on the same level. You’ll have a CEO riding next to someone who has an ordinary job, someone for whom this is the only vacation they’ll be able to take for three years,” says Messer, who says she’s ridden more than 65,000 miles in road trips over the past 10 years. “You build such bonds with people.”

Although the talkative Messer downplays the effect RA pain has on her physical well-being during these long trike trips – which involve camping in a tent each night between daytime rides – she admits that they’re strenuous. “By the fourth day, you’re tired. It takes three days of sleeping in a tent before you get used to it, so you’re not sleeping well,” she says. The enthusiasm and support of her fellow riders motivates her each morning. “Everyone is so excited. So you just keep pedaling. I’m slow, I’m always on the back end of the group, but there is always somebody with me, somebody to talk to. Or I just enjoy the peace and quiet of riding.”