A recent University of Texas graduate participated in a 70-day bicycle ride to support the fight against cancer.
Alicia Rusthoven, a Lewis family descendant, rode from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska, last May. The Texas 4000 was started to cultivate student leaders and engage communities in the fight against cancer, according to their website. It is the longest annual charity bike ride in the world. Teams raise funds for cancer research and share hope, knowledge and charity throughout the continent, the website said.
Rusthoven was part of a team that rode the Ozarks route, which was added to the program in 2013 with the goal of reaching more people across the American Midwest and Canada. The route went through east Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and British Columbia and the Yukon Territory before reaching Alaska.
Rusthoven first heard about the Texas 4000 from a high school teacher who had completed the ride.
“He told us he biked to Alaska when he was in college, and everyone thought he was joking, but he showed us the newspaper articles and it just looked so cool. I just saved it in my memory. When I was a (college) freshman I said, ‘I’m going to make sure I do that before I graduate,’” she said.
In addition to raising funds for cancer research, Texas 4000 is also a leadership development program. Participants must do much more than just physically train for the ride. Volunteering and fundraising begin a year and a half before the ride.
“Over the summer you start working out. In the fall, you get your bike, and you start cycling. We try to log 2,000 practice miles before the summer begins,” she said. “You’re (trying) to fit bike rides into your school schedule and into the spring, and then in May you’re off.”
Preparing for the ride while earning her degree in environmental science, Rusthoven rode an average of about 90 miles a day in the summer and then 150 miles a week when school resumed in the fall.
“It definitely taught us all that you’re capable of doing so much if you really want to work for it,” she said.
Fortunately, she didn’t sustain any injuries during her trip, but a few of her teammates did.
“As a group, we had some significant accidents that were definitely mentally taxing on everyone as well as physically taxing to the people who were affected,” she said. “We were trying to find the strength to get back on the bike while understanding that what we do is very dangerous.”
Rusthoven also found time to appreciate the outdoors, something she has always enjoyed with her family.
“I found life on the road to be pretty easy. I love the outdoors. A lot of my peers didn’t like camping as frequently as we did,” she said. “I found it very exciting. I think my thoughts were always, ‘How could I keep doing this?’”
She bonded with her teammates each day as the group discussed how grateful they were for the experience.
“We had a tradition of saying what we’re grateful for and who we are riding for that day. And on our last day we just kept talking about how those 22 people make us better every day” Rusthoven said. “They’re the most special people. And definitely now, like family. (It was) such a privilege to get to be with them every day.”
Along the journey, Rusthoven and her teammates met people whose lives had been touched by cancer, heard their stories and were inspired by their strength. One woman from the northern Yukon Territory in Canada made a lasting impression on Rusthoven.
“She had a hard time speaking about her daughter, but just the way that she spoke about her family and her daughter, the way she liked to live life and the strength she had to keep going after losing her child,” Rusthoven said. “I like the way she still lives her life so beautifully. It just really touched me. Getting to be in her presence was something I don’t ever want to take for granted.”
Rusthoven’s family has been touched by cancer as well. Her mother lost a sister to cancer. Rusthoven did not have the chance to get to know her aunt, but family stories have helped her feel connected to her mother’s sister.
The journey also provided impressive scenery along the way.
“When you get to Alaska, you see all of the wildflowers with the mountains in the background, and (you’re biking) next to your friends and hear their stories with such a good view,” she said.
Rusthoven recalled a sometimes-emotional journey, especially as the ride concluded.
“I think my favorite memory is our last gratitude circle. When we all told each other why we loved everyone, it took like three hours. It normally takes us 15 minutes and then we do what we call the ‘cinnamon roll hug,’ you just roll in and everyone gets one big giant hug and a squeeze. It felt really magical.”
As the group neared the end of the journey, Rusthoven deeply appreciated what the trip meant to her.
“I think I was used to having all these people who became my family around me all the time. I could see the finish line coming up, (I felt) a lot of dread because I didn’t want to imagine my life not surrounded by those people all the time,” she said.
Rusthoven wants to keep the momentum going, continuing to camp, bike and possibly begin hiking.
“I think this summer proves that I can basically do anything I’ve extended my mind to. I’m not really a traditionally athletic person, but now I’ve realized that it’s something that I can actually do. I want to make sure I keep it a priority and pursue that as I get older. Maybe once I’ve had a little bit of rest,” she laughed.
She also plans to continue to support those affected by a cancer diagnosis. Rusthoven’s team ultimately raised more than $450,000. Since the Texas 4000 began, the organization has raised more than $6 million.
She gives credit to her teammates, donors and her family for the accomplishment.
“My mom’s definitely been my biggest supporter through all that. She’s obsessed with the team, and she’s just so wonderful,” Rusthoven said.
For more information, visit the texas4000.org.