Asking friends and family for money can be as precarious as learning to ride a bike. But several Johns Hopkins University students gladly peddled for a chance to pedal across America this summer in support of a worthy cause.
Eighteen Hopkins students will spend the next two months perched atop 36 skinny bicycle tires, traveling a 4,000-mile route between the Homewood campus and San Francisco. Known as the Hopkins 4K for Cancer, the June 2 to late-July journey aims to raise both money for cancer research and awareness for the disease's prevention.
The ticket to ride is $2,500, which each of the 24 riders--six of whom are students at four other universities--raised by soliciting donations. The money will be used to sustain the students throughout the trip but will primarily be put toward their goal of giving $50,000 to the American Cancer Society at the end of the road.
Businesses from far and wide have put the group closer to their goal by paying to have their logos on the riders' jerseys. The Cliff Bar company has donated 200 of its energy bars. The Mt. Washington Bike Shop donated a bike helmet for each participant. Le Monde gave Hopkins 4K a deep discount on a new road bike for each rider, and Lutherville Bike Shop assembled the bikes free of charge. WOCT-FM 104.3, a Baltimore classic rock station, will be keeping tabs on the Hopkins students during the trip, asking them to call in during some morning shows this summer. The students are hoping to borrow a van that will be used as a pace car and to carry their gear.
Besides educating people in towns along the way and paying tribute to loved ones lost to cancer, the Hopkins 4K for Cancer is also offering the students a chance to see their country from over their handlebars rather than through an airplane window.
"I have been to Europe more than once, but I have never been past the Mississippi River," says junior Skye McFarlane of Saratoga, N.Y. "This is my last real summer before I have to go off and become a grown-up. When will I ever get a chance to do something like this again?"
"It's a chance to be a tourist in my own country," says junior Jen Parker, of Newburyport, Conn., one of the group's five trip leaders. "And everybody knows somebody who has been affected by cancer."
That nearly universal cancer connection was what led sophomore Ryan Hanley of Hickory, N.C., to choose the American Cancer Society as the beneficiary of the cross-country bike trip he had always wanted to take and was finally going to embark upon this summer. He started spreading the word about the trip after arriving on campus last fall.
"Cancer has come really close to me, affecting my family," Hanley says. "There's not another charity that even crossed my mind. I really wanted to do something."
McFarlane's family has been affected as well. "My grandmother died of cancer, I have a family friend whose life was saved by progressive cancer treatments, and my father has dealt with skin cancer," she says. "It feels good that I'm not just sending in my 10 bucks. The money we are raising could actually fund an entire research project or study."
Someday the money raised by Hopkins 4K for Cancer could help the residents in the small towns the students will be stopping in this summer. Since they are trying to keep food and lodging costs to a minimum, the 65 miles-per-day route was charted based on where the riders already know people. That means stops in out-of-the-way places like Strang, Neb., and Orderville, Utah.
"I want to see America, and I want to see it slowly," says Adam Ruben, a first-year graduate student in biology from Wilmington, Del. "Even more important, I want to see parts of America that I'd never get to see otherwise. Maybe I'll see Denver someday. Maybe I'll see Chicago. But without this trip, what reason would I have to see Brewster, Kansas? Or Kayenta, Arizona? I think small towns define America and, in fact, define life far more than large cities do."
And the small towns have been living up to their reputation for hospitality. In places where the students don't know a soul, they've been cold-calling local chambers of commerce, colleges and churches to find places to stay. In exchange for accommodations, the riders will be sharing cancer prevention information and participating in community service projects.
"People are really eager to help us, and it feels good to call a town and ask what we can do to help them instead of just asking who will feed us or give us a place to sleep," Jen Parker says.
To gear up for the trip, Hopkins 4K for Cancer riders have been hitting the road, slowly increasing their distance and stamina. Most of the riders admit that the trip is going to be harder than they thought.
"The first few weeks were tough. I was out of shape and I had no idea where I was going to raise all that money," says freshman Travis Snow of New Hartford, Conn. "So I sent letters to all my friends and family and to some businesses, asking for support. I now go to the gym and/or ride my new bike nearly every day for more than an hour. In the past three months, I've raised more than $3,100 and dropped more than 25 pounds."
"Preparing for the trip so far has taught me an important lesson: Big accomplishments are only a bunch of little steps done with persistence and focus," Snow says. "I know keeping this in mind will help me make it across the country."
"This trip will be an adventure in every sense of the word," Adam Ruben says. "I chose to go on this trip in part because I want to tell my grandchildren that I biked across America--not that I spent another summer doing lab work." For more information, go to www.hopkins4k.org.
To contribute to the students' effort, make checks out to "Hopkins 4K for Cancer" and mail to: Hopkins 4K for Cancer, c/o Ryan Hanley, 3339 N. Charles St. #3413, Baltimore, MD 21218. For more information, contact Leah Blom at 443-722-1972.