LIVESTRONG Texas 4000 Cyclists gear up for long ride to Alaska

Nevermind the saddle sores, scorching heat and mountains the 43 University of Texas students who strike out on their bicycles from Austin in two weeks are determined to make it all the way to Alaska.

That’s nearly 4,700 miles, for the record. And it’s not all downhill.

This year’s scrappy cyclists, known collectively as the Livestrong Texas 4000 for Cancer, will launch their 70-day journey on June 2. Along the way, they’ll raise awareness about cancer and money to research the disease.

The public is invited to join them June 2 for the first leg of the haul. The Atlas Ride — with distance options of 25, 50 and 70 miles — starts in Cedar Park and ends with a party in Lampasas.

The student cyclists will continue their ride the next day, splitting into two factions. One group will roll through the Rocky Mountains; the other will tackle the Sierras. They’ll reconnect in Prince George, Canada, for the remainder of the trek to Anchorage.

This year’s riders, who range in age from 19 to 26, were chosen from among 300 applicants. They’ll pedal 70 to 100 miles a day, taking seven days off along the way. They’ll also meet patients and make presentations about cancer to community groups.

Recent UT graduate Taylor Foreman, 21, will head up the crew riding through the Rockies. When she signed on, she hadn’t ridden a bike since she was a kid. “That’s the state of a lot of the riders. You definitely can start from ground zero,” she says.

She decided she wanted to join the ride after her mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer two years ago. “I had quite a feeling of having no control over the situation,” she says. “I didn’t know what I could do to help her.”

Many of the students who do the ride have been affected by the disease. “Meeting other people so dedicated to the cause gives you a connection, a way to handle how cancer has affected your life,” Foreman says.

She started training last October. Now she’s ready to roll but a little apprehensive. “I am worried that it’s going to be physically demanding, but I think that’s what makes this such a rewarding journey and makes us able to relate to this cause,” she says.

At the top of her worry list? Getting up and climbing on a bike day after day after day. That and the wind, which can feel like a never-ending hill.

“How do you get through that when your muscles are hurting? How do you make yourself keep going?” she says.

She’s about to find out.

Jack & Adam’s Bicycles provided bicycles at cost. The riders will take turns driving support vehicles and setting up rest stops along the way. They’ll stay with host families, at schools or churches, or camp as they go. Chris Condit, a former UT student and cancer survivor, started the ride in 2004. Last year’s riders raised about $330,000. This year’s goal is $300,000.

Money goes to support cancer research at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Livestrong Navigation Support Center in Austin and research conducted by biomedical engineering department at the University of Texas.

Each of the riders must log 1,500 training miles and volunteer 30 hours per semester before the ride begins and raise at least $4,500 for cancer research.

“It sounds kind of funny to say it, but the riding is one of the easier parts,” says Lance Pyburn, program director for the Livestrong Texas 4000.