Philanthropic pedalers pause in Shreveport

Texas 4000 in Shreveport

The overall fitness level of Shreveport redlined the scale Sunday as almost 30 tanned and sinewy cyclists overnighted in the city on their way north in a grand fundraising venture.

Greeted by blasts from stadium horns, the cheers of some 200 area supporters and exhortations of “All the way to Anchorage!” and “You can do it!” the 29 riders on the Ozarks route of Texas 4000 stopped at the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum, a music pavilion near the Calanthean Temple on Texas Avenue and finally at the Shreveport Waterworks Museum, the old McNeill Street Pumping Station.

While the day was hot and largely sunny under broken skies, there were a few large raindrops that fell. That drew sympathy from at least one event planner who waited for the cyclists to arrive almost 45 minutes later than the announced 1 p.m. start of the welcome-to-Shreveport party at the museum.

“These poor kids aren’t going to have a choice (of riding in the rain) for the next 60-plus days,” April Dahm commiserated.

“The rain actually cooled us off,” said cyclist Austin “King” Baker, 21, one of the Ozark route’s spokesmen. “It’s the first rain we’ve experienced in the nine days we’ve been riding. It was a nice, cooling rain.”

In addition to the more than two dozen student riders, “there are probably another 30 or so from Shreveport who have ridden out to meet them, so there ought to be about 50 cyclists rising up the drive,” added David Nelson, another of the local stop’s planners and Baker’s uncle.

In Shreveport, the cyclists were treated to free chicken and sausage jambalaya, healthy wraps, stuffed mushrooms and salads, and music by the Street Rats String Band and Trash Can Jinga.

Texas 4000 is a three-pronged effort to raise funds and awareness to battle cancer. Overall, 79 cyclists from the University of Texas are riding 4,500 miles from their campus to Anchorage, Alaska, in 70 days, after getting pledges from supporters to donate at least $1 for every mile ridden. In the longest annual charity bike ride in the world, the cyclists start together in Austin on Day Zero, split on Day Two into Sierra, Rockies and Ozarks routes, traveling up the Pacific coast, through the central mountain states and here.

Riders in this Ozark route, the newest, will next go to Texarkana, Texas, and then on to Little Rock, Arkansas. Then the cyclists will cross Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, before tripping the border into Canada and crossing Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon into Alaska. The Ozark route also has the most large cities of the three, with riders passing through St. Louis.; Chicago; Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Edmonton, Alberta; and Whitehorse in the Yukon.

Riders on the three routes will reunite in Canada to ride the last nine days together into Anchorage.

“Cancer has personally affected all the riders in some way or form,” said Nguyen Dinh, 22, of Spring, Texas, tour travel coordinator for this Ozark leg of the ride.

Baker, a Houstonian whose parents are from Shreveport, is dedicating his efforts in this leg to the memory of his grandfather, Shreveport writer and historian Tom Ruffin. Ruffin, 83, died in April 2009 after a struggle with ALS. While not cancer, the debilitating and fatal consequences of that illness affected Baker and led to his efforts in the ride.

“Everyone’s been affected by cancer but that is my main connection,” Baker said. On the way from Austin, Texas, to Shreveport, he said, the group stopped by the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, which also affected him.

In all, this year’s 79 Texas 4000 cyclists have a goal of $600,000, which local cyclist and charity fundraiser Jay Gallagher estimated comes out to just under $7,600 a rider.

“These college kids are doubling what average adults are doing,” said Gallagher, a Livestrong leader who also is involved in the “24 Hours of Booty” cycle rides to beat cancer. “That’s pretty amazing. I’m very impressed. Hats off for the riders.”

by John Andrew Prime