“Carrollton woman participates in Texas-Alaska bike ride”

Bijal Mehta, a 23-year-old UT Austin graduate and Carrollton native, gives the Longhorn signal. She and other riders left Austin for Anchorage, Alaska, on Friday.

Bijal Mehta of Carrollton launched her version of an endurance epic on Saturday.

The 23-year-old University of Texas graduate is biking 4,500 miles in the Eighth Annual Texas4000, billed as the world’s longest charity bike ride. All proceeds in the Austin-to-Anchorage ride go to cancer research.

Mehta and other bikers passed through Cedar Hill on Monday night. They will ride through Dallas on Tuesday, with a sleepover at Carrollton’s Crosby Recreation Center.

Mehta said she views the ride as a thank-you mission.

“My uncle had cancer and he has since made a full recovery,” she said.

And she said she’s grateful to the community that raised her.

“I have a really incredible community, friends and family.”

At first, her father, Sam Mehta, didn’t approve. But her persistence and persuasion converted him into one of her strongest supporters.

“She wants to contribute,” said Sam Mehta, who works in the finance industry. “If she doesn’t do it now, she said, when?”

Months ago, his daughter landed the “perfect” job at Amazon.com in Seattle, but she told the company about the ride, its mission and her commitment. She was ready to turn down the job to bike to Alaska. The company told her it would hold the post open for her, her father said.

There are 45 bikers. All of them are either UT-Austin students or fresh graduates. The riders divide up the 70 days along a Rockies route or a coastal route. Those passing through Dallas are taking the Rockies route, which passes through North Texas to Oklahoma and Colorado.

Other local riders include Matt Song, also of Carrollton, Ed Standefer of Azle, Nahil Hamam of Bedford and Tyler Shaw of Cedar Hill, ride organizers said.

All launched fund-raising crusades. Mehta, for example, raised $12,000, spoke at a Carrollton City Council meeting and has parents who are still assisting in raising more money.

The bike tour was started by former UT student Chris Condit, a cancer survivor who is now on the Texas4000 board of directors. Since its start, Texas4000 has raised more than $2 million. Partners include cyclist Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong foundation. Armstrong is a cancer survivor.

For months, the latest crop of UT cyclists has focused on training, riding an average of 100 miles a week. Saturday group training included treks through the hilliest sections of Austin. Mehta, a vegetarian, also used running and yoga to strengthen her core muscles.

There were surprises among the group.

“Of the 45 of us, the majority didn’t own a bike before this,” Mehta said.

That changed with the training when the group acquired road bikes, partially made of lightweight carbon material.

Another surprise: Athletic ability wasn’t part of a selection process that drew about six applications for each slot.

“It’s people who are passionate,” said Jamille Ruebsahm, executive director of Texas4000. “It’s about ability to work well in the team and dedication to the mission.”

What: The 8th annual Texas4000, billed as the largest charity bike ride in the world and twice as long as the Tour de France.

Where: Austin to Anchorage, Alaska, on two routes that began Saturday. The Rockies route passes through Dallas and Carrollton on Tuesday.

Who: UT students who have already raised $2 million in past rides for cancer research.

Why: For “a future without cancer.” Each day, team members dedicate the ride in memory of someone who died of cancer or who is battling cancer.

How rigorous? The trip is more than 4,500 miles and the team rides for 70 days through rain, sleet, wind, snow and heat. The riders spend an average of three days above 115 degrees and two nights below freezing.

Crazy facts: The riders will pedal within 300 miles of the Arctic Circle.

More info: www.texas4000.org; www.bijal4000.com