Why We Ride: Texas 4,000 Tales from the Road
This organization serves as a humble metaphor for the fight against cancer. Not only are we physically exhausted at the end of each day, but we’re often emotionally drained, too.
Had you told me a couple years ago – or any time prior to May 31 of this year, really – that I’d eventually bike 4,500 miles from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska, I would have laughed it off as a joke. Well… here we are, halfway into our 70-day journey, and I’m still having a really hard time believing it.
I’ve had multiple people contact me throughout the ride and ask me what my first thought is every morning when I wake up, to which I always respond, “Time to go to work.” As odd as it might sound – referring to biking as “work” – that’s exactly what Texas 4,000 is to me; my job. And thankfully, I love my job. Each night as I lay on my sleeping pad I take a little bit of time to reflect on everything that happened that day. For the first few nights, my mind was boggled by the fact that I had spent upwards of eight, nine, or even ten hours on the bike. After awhile, though, I realized that, in the grand scheme of things, my teammates and I have the easy job.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not always easy. Take the Eureka Springs Challenge on Day 15 of our ride, for example. We woke up that morning knowing that we would bike just upwards of 100 miles. We woke up that morning knowing that we would climb over 7,500 feet. We woke up that morning knowing that it was going to be one of the most physically demanding endeavors that any of us had ever undertaken. But we woke up that morning. We woke up that morning because it’s what we signed up to do.
The ride was long; the winds were strong, and the hills were difficult to climb. In retrospect, though, I’ve come to realize that the physical component of the challenge wasn’t the difficult part; the emotional component was. Our ride dedication circle – a Texas 4000 tradition during which riders are given the opportunity to dedicate their ride to someone or something – was particularly heavy that morning. I was thinking a lot about my Papa, whom I lost to a rare form of blood cancer in October 2011. I was also thinking a lot about my Aunt, Emily; her husband, Lee; and their two baby girls, Kaylee and Reese, all of who were taken in a car accident in March 2013. These thoughts – memories of spending the afternoon at the zoo with my Papa, or of spending all weekend at the park with Emily – were what kept me pedaling up the highest of hills as my teammates and I rode through Eureka Springs. These thoughts are what have kept me pedaling every day since then, too.
In all honesty, the physical act of cycling has become rather second nature. Our bodies have become accustomed to spending almost every hour of every day on the bike. We’ve come so far since we started training as a team back in January. I remember getting back to my apartment after a 30-mile ride and not having enough energy to do much of anything. Now, almost halfway through the summer ride, my teammates and I finish a 100-mile ride and are ready to interact with hosts, give PROGRAMS, and explore our temporary home. The more difficult part, then, is the emotional battle that we go through each and every day. This organization – specifically the summer ride itself – serves as a humble metaphor for the fight against cancer. Not only are we physically exhausted at the end of each day, but we’re often emotionally drained, too. Unlike those battling cancer, though, our journey has a definite expiration date. We will cross the finish line in Anchorage on Aug. 8. Unfortunately, the future for those fighting the disease isn’t quite as certain.
In reflecting on the first 30-something days of the ride, I can honestly say that this summer has been second to none. From touring MD Anderson Cancer Research Center in Houston to hearing the citizens of Louisiana talk about their personal ties to cancer, each and every minute of this journey has had a tremendous impact on my life. My teammates have become my family. All 27 of us have laughed together; all 27 of us have cried together, and all 27 of us have been here for each other since day one. I’ve heard so many stories along the way – from family, friends, and even complete strangers – and I plan on taking each and every one of those stories with me to Anchorage. I’m overwhelmingly thankful to have been given the opportunity to take a proactive role in fighting this disease, and I’m beyond excited by the idea of a cancer-free future.
BY KEVIN S. HELGREN
July 8, 2014