STOCKTON – Stockton played host Friday night to two dozen University of Texas students 20 days out on their 70-day bicycle ride from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska.
The ambitious trek, in its 11th year, is known as the Texas 4000 and is considered the longest charity bicycle ride in the world. Its goal is to raise funds for the fight against cancer.
Stockton hardly seems like the most direct route to Alaska, especially when one realizes the 24 riders started out Friday morning from Davis, about 70 miles to the northwest. The riders were up at Lake Tahoe before that.
Stockton was added to the route because one of the participants, St. Mary’s High School graduate Mark Jones, 22, hails from just south of the city.
Jones, who just graduated from UT with a degree in neurobiology, is riding a different leg of the charity event through the Ozarks of Arkansas, but his parents, Denise and Kevin Jones, offered to host the Sierra group. A third group of riders is following a route north along the Rockies.
All three groups – a total of 79 riders – will meet up in Canada’s Yukon Territory for the final 10 days of the ride.
“We’re very excited to meet them and host them,” Denise Jones said Friday afternoon, several hours before the riders arrived at her home on Roberts Island. The family runs a duck club in the Deltaand were thrilled to be providing an overnight respite and a “big breakfast” for the riders before they head out to their next stop in Brentwood today.
The young riders are all current students or recent graduates of UT and applied for this year’s trip two years ago. They found out in November 2012 if they were accepted onto the Texas 4000 team.
“Once you find out, your life is eat, sleep T4K,” the abbreviation for Texas 4000, said rider Elizabeth Schmidt, 21, from Austin.
They’re doing it for the adventure, for the life experience and, of course, for the cause. Their uniform jerseys are emblazoned with the slogan “Fighting Cancer Every Mile.”
Many have been affected by cancer.
“In high school, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy. It was a big deal for us,” said rider Jacob Schmelz, 21, from San Antonio.
He heard about the ride as a student and was willing to take on the challenge.
“It seemed like so crazy and wild. And my parents were bike riders, and I kind of wanted to show them up,” Schmelz said.
Denise Jones said her son, Mark, was interested in the cause of fighting cancer after a couple of close friends and relatives were stricken.
“My niece was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer at age 20 when Mark was in high school. It just touched him when he saw what she was going through. He’s riding for her and the others,” Jones said.
Anna Scanlon, 21, a senior from Washington, D.C., majoring in international relations and government, got involved with the team for a different reason at first.
“Originally, I thought it would be cool. We’re not really cyclists. After I joined the organization, I found out my mom had breast cancer. She encourages me to always do hard things,” Scanlon said.
“This is a hard thing,” she said.
Each rider committed to raise $4,500 before the ride – approximately $1 per mile traveled – and they all exceeded that amount. In fact, Jones said her son raised more than $10,000.
The group has already passed its original $500,000 fundraising goal for the year and set a new target of $600,000 by the end of summer. To date, they have raised $570,000, according to Schmidt. They’ve achieved that through letter writing, selling T-shirts, splitting profits with restaurants, holding a benefit concert and even panhandling.
They’ve received donations and discounts on equipment – including their Felt road bikes – and food along the route. Today, they will be participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life at Liberty High School, 850 Second St., Brentwood. The riders plan to arrive in the afternoon and will get off their bikes and walk around the track about 7 p.m.
“We’d love to have people come out and meet us,” Schmidt said.
By Joe Goldeen
Record Staff Writer
June 21, 2014 12:00 AM