We also spent the 18 months prior to the summer ride fundraising and volunteering in the Austin community. One of the central ways that I fundraised my $4,500 minimum requirement was through a letter-writing campaign; I wrote to my family, friends, neighbors and old classmates to tell them about what I would be doing that summer. As soon as I sent my letters, I received an overwhelming response of support. Another fun and somewhat unorthodox way that I fundraised was through panhandling –I stood on the side of the road with my jersey, a collecting tin, and a sign that read, “Biking from Texas to Alaska for Cancer Research.” I was pleasantly surprised by how many people would roll down their car windows at the stoplight and hand me loose change. In one particular four-hour period, I raised nearly $300.
We trained extensively during the 18-month preparation period. Each rider is required to log at least 1,500 training miles prior to the ride. Yet even before beginning this training, we had to learn how to “clip in.” Like many of my teammates, I had not ridden a bike since I was ten years old. I therefore was unaware of all of the fact that serious cyclists have special shoes that actually attach to the pedals of their bikes. The advantage of clipping in is that the cyclist continues to propel the bike forward even when she lifts her foot to begin another pedal stroke. As a result, the cyclist moves significantly faster. Yet for a beginner cyclist like myself, clipping in also meant that if I ever stopped pedaling, I would fall over because I was completely attached to my bike. To say that I fell a few times would be an understatement. However, my teammates, a number of volunteer coaches, and past riders were always there to help me up when I fell. Slowly but surely, my teammates and I increased the mileage that we rode together each week until we were able to do a “Century Test.” This test entailed riding 100 miles in less than 10 hours.
After a year and a half of training, fundraising, planning and volunteering together, my teammates and I were finally ready to begin our journey to Alaska. The initial level of familiarity that I felt with my teammates is nothing compared to how well I got to know them during the ride. We endured everything together—blazing heat and freezing cold rain. While every day had its ups and downs, I can still remember distinctly Day 22 of the 70-day ride, when we rode from Cheyenne, WY to Laramie, WY. We woke up at 5:30am to prepare for the day. I remember anticipating a fairly easy day because the distance between Cheyenne and Laramie is only about 55 miles. It should have been one of our shortest days. However, during those 55 miles, we climbed about 3,000 ft against the heaviest headwinds that I have ever experienced. What should have taken us 5 hours took nearly twice as long. Whereas I normally cycle between a 12 and 15mph pace, my odometer averaged about 5mph that day. I felt like I wasn’t moving at all. I can remember crying. I can remember sitting down at a rest stop and not wanting to stand up again. I can remember my muscles pulsing with so much exhaustion and pain that I wanted to get off my bike and never get on again. Yet I couldn’t stop. There were two central reasons why I couldn’t stop. The first was because of my teammates who were beside me. I love my teammates more than I can put into words. They are my sisters and brothers, my friends for life. They are what kept me going on the hard days. The second reason that I couldn’t stop pedaling is because of the people who I was riding for. Every morning, my teammates and I circled up in what we referred to as the “ride dedication circle.” During our ride dedications, we each dedicated our ride that day to someone battling cancer. Although we all had initial reasons for riding even before the summer ride began, we picked up new stories along the way; many of our hosts were affected by cancer. Furthermore, many of the grocery store and restaurant managers who donated food to us along the way were affected by cancer. As you can imagine, people were caught off guard by seeing a group of UT students cycling from Texas to Alaska. I met so many people along our journey who flagged us down on the road or at a rest stop to ask us what we were doing. A good number of them shared their stories of how cancer had affected their loved ones. My teammates and I rode for all of these people. We carried their stories with us to honor those who have battled cancer. That’s why I couldn’t stop riding on Day 22 from Cheyenne to Laramie; I chose to endure pain to fight for cancer patients who do not choose to have cancer but who nonetheless have to fight.
Now that the ride is over, I get the same question over and over again; people ask me, “What was your favorite part?” It’s somewhat unfortunate that this is the most common question that I get because it is an incredibly difficult question to answer. Every day was both the best day of my life and the hardest day of my life. For example, when I look back on the ride from Cheyenne to Laramie and consider how physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted I felt, I would still go back and do it again. That is why it is so hard for me to narrow it down to a favorite part.
While I can’t tell you what my favorite part is, I can tell you one of the greatest lessons that I learned, and one that I plan to remember for the rest of my life. I can narrow it down to one simple word: perspective. Every morning, my teammates and I would circle up and dedicate our rides that day to someone battling cancer. Hearing the stories of how cancer affected people’s lives taught me never to sweat the small things. I used to worry about a test that I had to study for or whether I’d find a date to my sorority’s formal. I realized that my problems are good problems to have, and that I am so lucky that neither my immediate family members nor I has cancer. I learned that there are truly difficult problems in the world, and all we can do is try our best every day to love the people around us and put these problems to an end. That’s why we biked to Alaska.
Now maybe you won’t think I’m so crazy after all.