Cycling odyssey

Group of riders from Texas tackling 4,000-mile journey
to raise money to battle cancer

Four cyclists from the University of Texas make their way through Palisade on Wednesday as part of the Texas 4000 ride. Twenty-five riders, riding in groups, are riding from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska, in 70 days to help raise money for cancer research. (Photo by The Daily Sentinel)

Day 19 was a fairly easy day.

Time to sleep in a little and cruise 57 miles, mostly downhill, into Grand Junction.

But first, there was a pitstop for a cool dip into the Colorado River.

Four of the 25 bicyclists from the University of Texas cooled off and frolicked in the river just outside Palisade after riding down from Vega State Park.

Colorado has offered some well-earned thrills for the cyclists.

“We spent our first few days in the plains of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas,” said Alex Herbig. “When we finally got to Colorado and saw the mountains, we just cried tears of joy because it’s so beautiful.”

She may have been exaggerating about the tears, but the foursome agreed pedaling the monotonous miles of flat and windy plains was not a lot of fun.

“Those 100-mile days through Kansas can really wear on you, so we were all looking forward to Colorado and the change of scenery,” Samantha Gorny said.

The riders are members of a 70-person team that is riding from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska, as part of the Texas 4000, an organization that raises money to fight cancer.

There are three different routes for the 70 riders — one that goes through Colorado and the Rocky Mountains; another going through the Ozarks and the Midwest into Canada; and the third going through California and up the coast.

To limit the burden on traffic, the cyclists will ride in small groups of three to five riders and take off at intervals.

It’s a daunting challenge that will take 70 days to ride the more than 4,000 miles.

These are not hardcore, seasoned cyclists. Most are recreational riders who had zero experience with long rides, let alone the day-to-day grind of long, grueling rides.

Most of the riders are taking part in the ride because cancer has had an impact on their lives with friends or family members battling some form of cancer.

Bailey Bond’s excitement level peaked when he talked about a fast descent down Rabbit Ears Pass.

“We rode down into Steamboat Springs and there was a seven-mile descent,” he said with the other three nodding. “The valley below just opened up and we were going so fast, it was so beautiful, so exhilarating — incredible.”

For him, the best memory off the bike was back in Oklahoma.

“We stopped in Enid, Oklahoma, and we had a woman who gave her story about cancer, and that was so moving,” he said, as his teammates again nodded and smiled. “We’ve really met some pretty incredible people along the way.”

Gorny said her aunt passed away from cancer and her mom had battled melanoma from years in the sun, and that’s what motivated her to be part of the ride.

“I joined because I wanted to spread knowledge (about the dangers of cancer), which is one of our pillars,” she said. “We have hard days (on the bike) and that can really get into your head but once you think about what you’re doing this for, it becomes so much easier.”

Along the way — at least once they got into Colorado — the cyclists saw plenty of wildlife.

Elk near Estes Park, moose in Rocky Mountain National Park, the occasional marmot, and, of course, those gigantic demented mosquitos at Vega State Park.

It was the first time the cyclists were able to camp on the trip, which will be split between camping and staying with host families.

The group is fully supported with all the gear in two vans.

They will also have seven rest days, mostly in larger cities. That’s also when they stop at cancer facilities and drop off donation checks from the fundraising.

The cyclists trained together for more than six months and had some general bicycle maintenance training before hitting the road.

They started training at just 15 miles a day and worked up to 100 miles a day. For the ride, they will average around 80 miles a day.

“The trick is, you have to just think about taking it one day at a time,” Julia Olson said. “If you try to think about all 70 days, it’s way too much. Sometimes it’s more like one mile at a time.”

Coming from Austin, they didn’t get any altitude training, and the rolling hills were good but no big climbs like what Colorado has to offer.

The group took off Thursday for Moab where the forecast called for searing temperatures as high as 105 degrees. They will hit Canada at the halfway point on Day 35.

The website — texas4000.org — has biographies of all the riders with personal messages of why they ride and how cancer has tragically impacted many of them.

Some post messages to social media about their travels.

Rider Heidi Simmons posted to her Instagram account, heidibikestoalaska, writing about her time in Grand Junction.

“After wandering through downtown, I watched an epic sunset along the Book Cliffs. Tonight was a restful evening filled with laughter, Chipotle, and peace. I’ll be back, Grand Junction!”

To learn more about or to donate to the Texas 4000, go to texas4000.org.

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