Cyclists Going From Austin to Anchorage to Raise Money to Fight Cancer

Texas 4000 for Cancer ride coordinator Jon Stringer talks with Joel Farris, left, before taking a shower at the McPherson’s Cellars Winery after riding his bicycle from Snyder to Lubbock on Wednesday.

A young man rode his bike to see his ailing grandmother in Slaton.

He wasn’t riding across the neighborhood or even across town. Jon Stringer was only passing through Slaton and Lubbock on his way from Austin to Anchorage, Alaska.

And this was the grandmother and grandson’s last visit before he continued on his ride to fight the disease she battled last year and that took her husband’s life more than 20 years earlier.

“Do you have any advice for me?” Stringer said he asked his 79-year-old grandmother, Melba Jo Swinford of Tahoka, before continuing northwest.

“Don’t do it,” the 27-year-old remembered her telling him. She was afraid the more than 4,000 miles remaining on his biking journey would be too dangerous.

But Stringer isn’t riding alone. He’s one of 44 men and women riding more than 4,500 miles in the sixth annual Sense Corp. Texas 4,000 for Cancer Bike Ride to raise money and awareness for cancer prevention and treatment. He is one of 20 other riders traveling the coastal route of the journey to Alaska via Southwestern deserts and the Pacific Coast, making cancer-awareness presentations and taking donations in towns and cities along the way.

“It’s for every cancer survivor,” he said of the ride. “But for my grandma, I guess she’s just the glue to our family. I have to dedicate the summer to her.”

Stringer’s grandmother was diagnosed with colon cancer in the spring of 2008. But a successful surgery removed the cancer in July, and Stringer said his grandmother, who recently was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a nursing home in Slaton, still has the same personality.

Laughing, he said she punched him in the ribs for making a “smart-aleck” remark during their brief visit.

Stringer’s visit with his grandmother came after the most challenging day so far in the ride that started Saturday north of Austin.

The 19 riders who traveled north from Snyder along U.S. 84 Wednesday fixed 25 flat tires.

“I’m mad at Highway 84 right now – just furious,” he said, explaining how broken glass, metal shards, staples, and the sharp rocks that pave the highway punched holes in their rubber tires.

“There are things we see on the road you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “We can run over road kill and hit a tooth or a rib bone.”

Stringer said his group, which usually fixes one flat tire a day, on Wednesday went through half its supply of tires originally planned to last the entire journey. Hearing their story, Broadway Bikes in Lubbock donated several inner tubes Wednesday to keep the riders moving on to their next destination, Clovis, N.M.

Since leaving Austin, the riders have stayed nights in Lampasas, Brownwood, Winters and Snyder. They stayed at McPherson Cellars Winery Wednesday night, where owner Kim McPherson said his daughter, a recent University of Texas graduate and friend of rider Daniel Tesfay, convinced him to put the travelers up for the night.

After his daughter described the riders’ mission to fight cancer, McPherson said, he decided it was worth the effort to convert his winery into temporary lodgings.

“Me and my guys rigged them up a shower,” he said of the temporary shower set up between metal wine tanks and shielded by a plastic tarp.

The kindness of strangers along the way so far has been the cyclists’ reward for raising $350,000 this year and $1.5 million total for research organizations such as the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center since the ride was started in 2004.

Cyclist Julian Jones, 21, said riding for the Texas 4,000 was his first time cycling since he was a child biking around his neighborhood.

Now, he said, he’s pedaled to Lubbock from Austin and has raised $4,700, mostly from donors but a good bit from selling “some old stuff around my apartment” such as game consoles and an old mountain bike.

And Jones said he’s looking forward to the trip ahead.

“It’s already mind-boggling to a lot of us that we’ve made it this far,” he said.

Jones said his inspiration for riding came from his dad, who had bone cancer in his leg in the 1980s, and his grandfather, who died of prostate cancer two years ago.

Stringer said he applied to become a ride director for the organization after a short attempt in reality TV. He said he hosted or was a crew member for several failed reality shows starting in 2004, including “Dance Club USA” by the Entertainment Channel, “Reality Bar Crawl” by National Lampoon and “Disorientation Tour” by MTV.

Though looking forward to seeing the Pacific Coast Highway in California and the hills and mountains of the West, Stringer said, he was anxious for day 60 of the 70-day-journey, when both teams of cyclists meet again in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

“But that’s so far down the road it’s funny to even think about,” he said.

By Adam Young