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If you’ve ever run a 5K or done a bike ride for charity, you know how great it feels to get in shape for a good cause. Now imagine a 4000-mile-plus charity bike ride from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska, over 70 days. That’s what 83 students from the University of Texas at Austin are doing this summer for the annual Texas 4000, which bills itself as the longest annual charity bike ride in the world. Riders take three routes: Ozark through the Midwest; Rockies, through the Rocky Mountains; and Sierra, up the West Coast of the United States and Canada. All three groups converge in the final days of the ride for the final stretch to Anchorage.
Through the pledges of its riders and sponsors, Texas 4000 aims to raise $760,000 for cancer research and support services this year. If that number is met, it will surpass the organization’s 16-year total raised to more than $10 million.
Just as important as the money raised is the awareness that the riders are bringing to cause, as well as the hope to those suffering from cancer. This year in the United States an estimated 1.7 million people will be diagnosed with cancer, and more than 600,000 people will die from the disease. In fact, many of the riders have been personally touched by cancer either by personally suffering from it, or by watching a family member or friend afflicted with the disease. As the riders pass through towns along the way, they stop and visit with the communities and give talks about their cause, as well as tour cancer treatment centers and hospitals. In June, before the bike tour even kicked off, the students presented MD Anderson Cancer with $50,000 and another $25,000 for Texas Children’s Hospital for cancer research.
Annie Velasco, a rising senior from Kingwood, Texas, rides in tribute to her father who lost his battle with prostate cancer last year. Having just passed the Canadian border on the Rockies route, Velasco says the ride is physically challenging–biking up steep mountain roads through the Rockies, and in Montana having to crawl between barbed wire, carrying their bikes through a storm drain and riding through mud. At the same time, she finds the challenges uplighting, too. “I find there is a lot of beauty in suffering, especially for a cause so close to our hearts,” she says. “The joy and gratitude of being able to do this always outweighs the hard climbs up mountain passes, and the early mornings when getting on a bike and riding for 10 hours is the last thing you want to do.”
Riding is just the half of it. The students had to train for over a year and also prepare and plan every mile of their journey to secure host lodging, food and other logistics. In some cases, in remote areas of Canada, that means camping out at night. “I’m happy at the end of the day because this is such a gift to be a part of,” Velasco says, “but exhausted even seems like an understatement—especially now when finishing the ride isn’t the end of the day—we have to pitch a tent and make dinner over a fire while camping.”
Still it’s an amazing way to see remote pristine wilderness, many people never get to see. “My favorite part is experiencing the continent in a way where you get to take in every sense,” Velasco says. “And when you see something beautiful, you have several minutes to admire it before passing by.”
Smart Lifebites parent, Crispy Green, is a proud sponsor of Texas 4000, supplying the riders with Crispy Fruit. Crispy Green Founder and CEO Angela Liu is also an alum from the University of Texas at Austin, where she received a Master’s degree in Chemistry.
– Patty Yeager