Austin to Anchorage — on bikes


Twenty-seven college students and recent graduates from the University of Texas at Austin passed through the River Valley on bicycles Wednesday as they made the 70-day, 4,687-mile trek to Anchorage, Alaska. They stopped at a Pottsville gas station long enough to share their story.

The students are a part of a 72-bike organization called Texas 4000 for Cancer, a nonprofit group that raises money and awareness for cancer research and care. It’s the longest annual charity bike ride in the world, twice as long as the Tour de France — although they don’t go quite as fast, they said.

The cyclists are one of the organization’s three legs. They call the route that passes through Arkansas the Ozark Route. The Sierra Route goes through California, and the Rocky Mountain Route passes through Colorado. All three legs converge in White Horse, Yukon Territory and make the final 10 days of the journey as a whole.

Decked out in full-cycling gear and equipped with two vans, a sedan and a trailer for toting gear, one is bound to think they probably came out the womb peddling a bike. Not quite.

“One of our teammates actually learned to ride a bike just for this event, and another student is a five-time Iron Man competitor, so we have bikers at every talent and experience level,” senior Josh Hernandez said.

Hernandez said they sleep in churches, recreation centers, dormitories, houses or anywhere that will have them.

“We sleep when and where we can,” he said.

They wear their dedication on their sweat-dripping brows and dirty uniforms. Hernandez said training starts 18 months before the actual ride. Each cyclist must raise a minimum of $4,500, volunteer at least 50 hours and log 1,500 practice hours before they can become a member.

But the group agreed that biking may not even be the most difficult part. Jose Dominguez, a senior in charge of the safety of the cyclists and securing donations in each city they stop in, is called “the eyes and ears of the entire group.”

“I pretty much walk in to diners, grocery stores, gas stations and wherever else I think will donate, and I tell them what we’re doing,” he said. “Mom-and-pop stores are super generous. We passed a cupcake shop a few miles back, and the lady just gave us 27 cupcakes she’d made that day.”

The cyclists try to stay within 20 miles of one another and stop for rest breaks every 20 miles, but once they get into the Ozarks, Dominguez said cell phone service is tough to find.

The reason they brave the summer heat for the insanely long ride is summed up in their three-word mission statement: “Hope, Knowledge and Charity.”

“We’re really passionate about spreading those three things as we ride, and that’s what the founder, Chris Condit, wanted,” said Stephanie Romeo, a 2014 graduate. “Condit was a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor, and he was looking for a way to get involved in the cancer community. He saw groups doing the same thing from the West to East coasts, but those areas already have predominant cancer organizations.”

That’s why the organization is actively updating routes. This is the third year they’ve traveled through the River Valley. The group focused this year on hitting New Orleans and Mississippi, an area known as Cancer Alley. Louisiana ranks second in the nation for the highest amount of toxins emitted in onsite releases, due in part to the large number of refineries and industrial plants in the area.

The organization has raised $645,000 this year alone and $4.5 million in its 12-year existence.

Written by Ryan Smith

See original article here.