Texas 4000 gears up for long ride to Alaska

On Saturday , 53 University of Texas students will climb on their bikes and start a 70-day, 4,687-mile journey north.

The Texas 4000 for Cancer cyclists will cross mountains and deserts, endure blazing temperatures and rainstorms and test their leg muscles as they pedal from Austin to Anchorage to raise cancer awareness and money to research the disease.

The public is invited to join them for the first leg of the trip. 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 Sunday, 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.

It’s the seventh year of the ride, created by Chris Condit, a former UT student and cancer survivor who now serves on the group’s board of directors. It has raised $1.5 million for cancer research; this year’s goal is to raise $400,000.

“Part of the mission is spreading the word about cancer prevention and early detection,” says Jamille Ruebsahm, executive director of the not-for-profit organization. “More than 75 percent of cancers are now preventable.”

The riders, half men and half women, were chosen from among 300 applicants. “A lot who join the team haven’t been on a bike since they were 10,” Ruebsahm says.

Each must log 1,500 training miles before the ride begins and raise at least $4,500 for cancer research.

They’ll pedal 70 to 100 miles a day, taking a few days off along the way. They’ll also meet patients and make presentations about cancer to community groups. They are scheduled to reach Anchorage on Aug. 13.

“The ride itself is a metaphor for cancer — they have to get up and fight every day,” Ruebsahm says.

Among those riding this year are Jordan Deathe , a 24-year-old junior studying economics. A cancer survivor, he’s been in remission from non-Hodgkin T Cell lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, for two and a half years.

“An experience like that changes you. and it changed me,” Deathe says. “I know I have spare energy and time to give, and it may not be a huge difference, but I can respond positively.”

He says he’s looking forward to the sheer fun of the ride, and getting away from society. “I can live as an outlaw for 10 weeks — part of a roaming band of cyclists with no home,” he says.

The hardest part, he says, will be facing the reality of his disease and the physical challenges of the ride. “We have to climb mountains. We don’t get much sleep. Sometimes we ride 100 miles and do it again the next day.”

The riders will take turns driving support vehicles and setting up rest stops every 20 miles along the way. They’ll stay with host families, at schools or churches, or camp as they go. Bikes were provided at cost by Jack & Adam’s Bicycles.

There has never been a serious injury on the trip. Last year, riders endured three weeks of rain.

By Pamela LeBlanc