**I almost forgot to post my final thoughts about my 4K experience on my blog. I started writing my reflection on the plane ride back from Cali a couple weeks ago and finally finished a couple days ago. A big thank you to all my readers, you were one of the main reasons why I continued to write and to blog day after day. Hope you enjoy!
I guess now that I’m on a connecting flight to Minneapolis and on my way back home to Baltimore, it’s the perfect time to reflect on my experiences this summer and formally write them down. Squashed in the middle of two other passengers listening to Icona Pop, I turn my head and peer out the window saying farewell to the Golden Coast. I look for the vast stretches of desert we passed on highway 50 in Nevada. I search East to find the Rockies we climbed forever ago in Colorado. It’s a totally different view from above and I still am in shock at how our willpower gave us the drive to continue pedaling and traversing the United States on our bikes. From an airplane view, we were just small dots moving slowly, but surely across the United States each with the same mission: Cycle. Inspire. Unite.
Cycling became our lifestyle, and we became a cycling wayfarer of some sort. We lived 90% of our summer in spandex, we bathed with garden hoses and sprinklers along golf courses, we camped in a gravel lot behind a gas station, we cycled through a tropical storm up the never ending hills to Lynchburg, we danced right in the middle of highway 50, we hiked through national parks, we got Chuck-e-Cheese to open a couple minutes early so we could cheer up a teammate, we watched the sunrise (e-yeahhh), we made Laurenning and Coraling verbs, and most importantly, we biked coast to coast as a family. Your senses are heightened riding your bicycle across the country and you experience the US in a special way that not many people have. You smell things you normally don’t smell, some pleasant, some not so much; you appreciate and soak in the panoramic views from a rider’s perspective that only we as cyclists know; you experience the wind, rain, heat, cold, and pressure changes from different altitudes riding day in and day out of different cities; you experience America. Just by pure manpower (or Luna power for all you strong, independent Luna bar women), we surprised ourselves and got to each city on two wheels.
But it’s more than just cycling from one city to the next, it’s the fact that we overcame a feat that many of us thought was nearly unthinkable. We broke down our walls, passed our limit as we opened our emotional and physical boundaries, and outdid ourselves when our legs told us to shut up. For me, I found strength from the support of family and friends that encouraged me to keep pedaling, solace in the mere fact that optimism can have such a strong and positive effect on mentality, and faith when complete strangers believed in our cause by supporting us through donations and providing us with a roof over our heads.
During the memorial service for Anne, Rob read a letter the ride director from his year wrote to our team, to those in attendance, and in commemoration to Anne. There were words from his speech that just spoke volumes to me at what we had just accomplished:
“The most important thing you have done is expand our definition of what is possible in this world by the simple act of biking and the fact that you just kept going. Because of your hope and your determination, you have forever changed our imaginations. At this moment, you have become larger than life itself.”
It’s a truly humbling experience. To have faith in humanity when there is so much corruption in the world is a hard concept to come to terms with, which can destroy your perspective on many things. Before the 4K, I was under the impression that not many selfless people exist out there, but day to day we were showered with altruism, many of which came from strangers sacrificing their time to support our efforts in the fight against cancer. Biking was no longer just a physical activity to get from one place to another, but a vehicle that served as inspiration and a symbol of hope to those affected by cancer. Humility is freedom from thinking about one’s self, without regard for one’s own inclinations. You learn quickly that it’s not all about you, but about you supporting others, beginning with your teammates. There have been days on the trip where I just did not want to get up from my sleeping bag, days where I make the turn for a sharp switchback only to be discouraged from a tough climb looming ahead, and days where I just wanted to throw my bike on the ground from frustration; but you look around and see 25 other riders resisting the urge to give up. They keep keeping. They encourage you, give you confidence, and most importantly, they believe in you.
Comparing my experiences on the 4K to patients who have fought the monster is in no ways comparable to all they have been through, but understanding the struggle they face and knowing how much physical and emotional investment is spent on this fight humbles you. It gives you something more to think about and makes you realize how precious time is. We’ve heard stories from loved ones that had family pass from the disease, we’ve met cancer survivors that are currently in remission, and we’ve met young adults that were going through radiation therapy during our 4K journey. What gives them the most strength and hope are the people that relentlessly cheer them on. When you’re struggling up the Rockies, switchback after switchback, thinking you can’t carry on, put yourself in a cancer patient’s shoes and think about what they go through day after day. We fight for them. I never imagined I’d think about such substantial issues while riding on my saddle for hours on end. The times where I struggled were the days I learned and contemplated the most. It’s during those tough times when you question your ability to accomplish or overcome an obstacle. Can I? Am I strong enough? What if? You start to doubt yourself and begin to lose the drive that initially fired the spirit in you. But just one thought, one action, and one sentence can turn your morale around. The thought, the action, the words remind you there was a reason you biked in the first place. You find comfort in knowing there are people by your side, cheering you on. That is what the 4K is about, nobody gets left behind- ohana.
We started off as strangers and ended as a family. I can’t help but commend the resilience our team showed throughout the 4K. We’ve somehow mastered the IAO MJ so often emphasized: improvise, adapt, and overcome. Had it not been for the collaboration and cooperation of our team, we wouldn’t have made as strong an effect on each other and the community at large. But we did. And knowing we had a community of supporters across the United States cheering us on instilled so much hope and strength as we rode each day. This is what the 4K is about. Though we ran into some emotional and physical issues during the trip, we knew we always had someone on our team to count on during our lowest of lows and someone to celebrate with during our highest of highs. The conviction to get involved in the fight against cancer propelled us to reach past our limits and carry on. Just the thought of knowing someone out there believes in you makes worlds of a difference. Translate that support into a cause that supports young adults affected by cancer who feel vulnerable from the metastasizing disease and you have the 4K. I’ve learned that a positive outlook in life and just simply living can go a long way. Deny to yourself and give to those who need. Realize that small, yet momentous shifts in perspective give life a whole new meaning. This is what the 4K has taught me and it’s a life lesson that I will value.
Here are some stats from Kevin, our amazing bike mechanic.
Total mileage: 4650 Miles
Average ride distance: 77.5 miles
Longest ride: 135 miles (Hopkinsville, KY to Marion, IL)
Shortest ride: 12 miles (Mill Valley, CA to San Francisco, CA)
Centuries completed: 7
Max altitude: 12,225 ft (Colorado)
Tropical storms ridden through: 1 (Virginia)
Number of energy bars consumed: too many to count
Best rumble strips: Colorado
Worst rumble strips: Utah
Most aggressive dogs: Kentucky
Bears seen: 1 (Tennessee)
People met cycling unsupported cross country: 4
Teams we met cycling cross country: 2 ( Push America/Tour of Hope and Bike & Build)
Beds slept in: 3
I couldn’t have asked for a better team to ride across the country with and I mean that with all my heart. We made this experience ours and came up with priceless memories that will long be remembered: 4K prom in Tahoe; 4K Christmas in July and Secret Santa in Zion; a 4K song sung to the tune of 12 days of Christmas; a 4K song about burning, itching, and lots and lots of pain; a 4K ohana. We learned so much during this trip about ourselves and about the lives of those around us. We’ve learned to appreciate the small things in life that we often take for granted. What made this trip so hard was saying goodbye to each other once we went our separate ways. The days immediately following the 4K were one of the loneliest days for me, but still, we kept in contact and we made sure we’d see each other as much as possible. I longed for closure, but the bond we made and the friendship we shared during the 4K was strong enough to remind me that everything would be fine. I now have 25 brothers and sisters that I can sincerely count on. San Francisco is no longer just a city to us, but a symbol of all that we did, all that we worked for, and all that we fought for this summer. East is east, West is San Francisco, and 4KSF13 is family. Until our next adventure team San Fran, I love you all.
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”