Crossing Paths with Texas 4000
We see other cyclists on the road all the time, but one group we crossed paths and spent time with in the Yukon had a special significance. Many factors brought the Pedal South project together and helped make it happen, all equally important, but there’s no doubt as to the true initial catalyst for this journey. Six years ago, at the start of my freshman year of college, a fatefully placed flyer on a bike rack caught my attention and subsequently jumpstarted the rest of my life. It read:
“Ride a bike to Alaska to fight cancer!”
I can’t imagine a more genuinely noble, adventurous, prodigious yet all-the-while achievable pursuit being so crisply advertised. I was hooked mid-sentence. The flyer was for Texas 4000, the longest annual charity bike ride in the world. Each year 60 or so University of Texas students individually raise $4,500 towards cancer research and then, in the summer, cycle approximately 4,000 miles from Austin, TX to Anchorage, AK, spreading hope and inspiration to cancer patients as well as giving informative talks about cancer detection and preventative measures across the continent.
The opportunity arrived at the perfect time. Like any new undergrad I was open to and constantly seeking appealing guideposts, of which I had seen none better. On top of that, after graduating high school I had a somewhat jarring experience which also ushered forth life contemplation. I’ll leave out the how, when, and where—all worth a full story—but what happened was that at age 19, for the first time, I was made privy to the existence of my half brother, 10 years my senior.
On the whole, the entire experience of discovering and meeting my brother went unbelievably well for everyone involved. Truly couldn’t have gone better. I did, however, feel immense distress to find that before I even knew of him, he had already received a kind of summation on the past and current status of my life. What would that entail? What would one say about me? What would me say about me? Shudder…
These and many more questions inhabited my mind. Texas 4000 (T4K) came along and provided me the perfect tangible means of injecting everything I was into something that mattered, something that affected and inspired people. More importantly it allowed me to honor and fight for my grandfather’s life, which melanoma and leukemia were so ruthlessly stealing away. I’d never imagined I could play such a fulfilling role in that daunting, often seemingly hopeless endeavor.
The ride itself, 70 arduous days from Austin to Anchorage, was designed fully with the intention of acting as a metaphor for the struggle those fighting cancer face. As such, for many Texas 4000 participants—some of whom have zero cycling experience prior to joining—the ride is tolling. Even somewhat miserable. And that’s ok. For every day that they overcome that and ride, cancer patients following their journey can feel a little more comforted knowing someone’s out there fighting alongside them. And that feeling of companionship, of knowing someone else is out there enduring their usually lonely darkness by choice, is priceless.
Also prevalent among T4K teams however, and equally important, are those who revel and flourish in the lifestyle. They find themselves fully stimulated, brimming over with energy and joy as they zealously apply every ounce of inspiration into satisfying physical exertion 24 hours a day. Their zest for arriving at a new place and meeting new people and sharing their journey with others is warming and contagious and ultimately, a kind of emanating glow which delves into strangers and draws them forth by the same strange hidden something within them. This is my category.
We made it to Alaska, the ride was over, but I knew I wasn’t finished. I didn’t ever want to stop. Daily I had a concrete, physical challenge with a difficult but always achievable and gratifying goal: Today, just make it THERE! Daily I had met and become close with others through our team mission, through discussing cancer, but there was more than just that. I saw and recognized the raw power of having toiled and trekked to every location in opening up connections with people. I had this tingling, exciting inclination that perhaps just traveling to a place (by self-propelled means) was enough to connect with the people there. That a topic might not even be necessary. I was able to daily become close with total strangers and have my life shaped and molded just a little bit by theirs, and I wanted to share that experience with the world. Another rider on my team, Jack, saw the exact same potential in finding and sharing stories of others in this way. Our joint interminable hunger for more, combined with Jack’s passion for filmmaking, found the perfect outlet in documenting a Pan-American highway cycling journey. After four years of discussing, planning, pitching, funding, searching, failing, succeeding, training, preparing, and overall, finally getting it right, here we are doing it.
As the beginning of Pedal South’s ride was comprised of much of the end of T4K’s established route, I was dealt a heavy dose of nostalgia and overwhelming good memories of these beautiful places I had already cycled as we neared the point, in the Yukon, where we would cross paths with the current, 2014 T4K team.
In equal measure I was giddy, nervous, and thrilled to meet up with them. I knew that we would instantly connect. That I would feel and detect within them that overwhelming spirit which T4K instilled in me. That they would sense it in me as well. And of course that is what happened.
Below is a short video Ricardo created which captures a small but magnificent portion of our time with each of two different T4K groups. Every ride day the teams gather up to dedicate their efforts to a particular person fighting or lost to the fight in cancer, to someone supporting them, or even just to an important idea. Then, on special occasions, they join together in an old T4K tradition: the rousing, loud, rowdy, chilling, blood-pumping ‘Haka’ chant. Jack and I were honored to be invited to lead it, something we have always taken great pleasure in doing. We couldn’t have scripted a better location for our meet-up, a “signpost forest” in which people from around the globe nail up a memento of where they travelled from. Shiny, metal slices of their stories.
Not shown in the video is our staying up all night with them, telling stories while searching for aurorae borealis. Not pictured is the immediate comfort and joy which sprung up upon my walking up to them, a stranger, and nervously exclaiming “I AM ONE OF YOU!” There’s no way to capture the refreshing, reinvigorating feeling that powered me for weeks and months after our time with them.
Texas 4000 opened up my life, showed me a bit of what me is, and ultimately, made Pedal South possible.
Learn more about Texas 4000 by visiting their website, http://texas4000.org/
(Video by Ricardo Palomares)