Tired. Depleted. Overwhelmed with the difficulty of it all. And the urge to keep going barely trumps the urge to give up.
That is how millions of people around the world feel as they fight cancer. And it’s how 86 University of Texas students will feel as they pedal their bicycles 4,000 miles over 70 days, fighting cancer every mile.
The Texas 4000 is the longest charity bike ride in the world. Typically, it’s a 4,000 mile bike ride from Austin, TX to Anchorage, AL. (More on the history here.) This year looks a little different, however, with restricted access through Canada due to COVID-19 precautions.
That means the team will stay within the borders of the contiguous US. Divided into four groups, with each group tackling one mountainous region each (the Ozarks, Rockies, Smoky Mountains and the Sierras), every rider will still be riding in excess of 4,000 miles.
It’s not just about endurance, though. The Texas 4000 organization teaches students leadership and development. Every team member is required to raise $4,500 (though the average is around $8,000). They also must volunteer 50 hours in the community and ride 2,000 training miles.
Customarily, the Central Texas community has the opportunity to ride with the Texas 4000 on the first day of their journey in an event called the ATLAS Ride. I’ve participated in the ATLAS Ride since 2010, when I foolishly showed up at the starting line to ride 53 miles from Austin to Lampasas on a fixed-gear cruiser bike. Let it be known, it can be done, but don’t make it that hard on yourself. A road ride of any significant length really should be done on a road, tri, or hybrid bike.
The ATLAS Ride originated as a ride from Austin to Lampasas with 53 or 70-mile route options. In recent years, it has evolved to a full loop in the Texas Hill Country (starting and ending in the Lampasas area.) Regardless of the year or the course distance, the last mile of the ATLAS Ride is a mile of silence. Along this mile, signs are displayed with messages for the team and survivors, and words of hope and inspiration to keep going.
With pandemic precautions in mind, the June 5th ATLAS Ride was a single course, 25-mile route with limited registration. The ride sold out this year but, like so many athletic events, Texas4000.org offered a virtual option (all swag included).
The 2021 ATLAS Ride nailed perfection in some things the committee controlled (organization, signage, course, size, and support) and some things that they didn’t (weather, zero automobile traffic and no accidents). Central Texas temperatures are usually somewhere between hot and Hell by early June, but this year was a cool 70-something. The course was doable for all levels. There were some rolling hills, but none were so challenging that they required a shift to low gear. (in other words, a little wakey wakey to the glutes, but no kick in the pants). I found this ride to be the perfect balance of effort and surrender. It was, once again, a “flow” experience.
At the finish of the ATLAS Ride, there’s always barbecue, a small ceremony, beer and wine, and somber time when everyone reflects on why the Texas 4000 exists. After the party, the Texas 4000 rests, then takes off on their long journey. This is when the festival ebbs and the challenge begins.
You can think and pray for the individual riders (listed by name at Texas4000.org), but what will really help further the mission of why they’re doing this is donating toward the cause. Cancer cure is the end goal, but funding is the means. I usually preach that profanity is distasteful, but in this case, we can all agree: cancer sucks (#CancerSucks).
Why not give to the cause by registering to attend Tribute, the finishers’ celebration when the riders return in August? Tribute is a Welcome Home party for the current team, and an introduction to next year’s team. Tickets will be on sale soon and sponsorship opportunities are available. (To inquire about sponsorships, contact Shannon Cunningham, Associate Development Director, Shannon@Texas4000.org.)
Track the Texas 4000 along their journey by following Texas 4000’s social channels. You can add words of encouragement by writing on the message board at www.texas4000.org/blog.
The Texas 4000 Tribute is August 14, 2021 at Hilton Austin, 500 East 4th Street Austin, TX 78701.
Cover photo courtesy Riley Whitford
Brook Benten Jimenez, M.Ed., is an Austin-based fitness expert who was named “Austin’s Fittest Fitness Professional” in 2012. She travels Texas and beyond, seeking wellness adventures worth storytelling. Gallivant with Brook on Instagram @BrookBenten.