Cycling with Salfer, a student’s journey across the country

On a frigid December afternoon I was putting off homework, as per usual, and routinely scrolled through my Facebook feed.  Amidst the baby announcements and relationship status updates there was an ad that said, “Bike Across America,” so naturally my curiosity lead me to click.

I read all about The Ulman Cancer Fund’s 4K for Cancer and the benefits it provides to cancer patients; I felt compelled to sign up on the spot.  I hastily completed the application and sent it in.  Before I knew it, I was called for an interview and accepted into the program. 

In a whirlwind of surprise and excitement, I called my mom to ask her what she thought.  Looking in hindsight, I probably should have done that prior to applying. 

Naturally, as a caring mother would do, she told me I was out of my mind. Nonetheless she came through saying to pursue it if I believed that passionately in it. 

Fast forward past the long months of fundraising and training (sort of) to June 5: send-off at the Baltimore Inner Harbor. 

I had not the slightest inkling what I was about to get myself into. 

That day I was overheated and had to jump ship off my bike while climbing up a mediocre hill to vomit into a bush.  I send my sincerest apologies to that misfortuned plant. 

Later on that day we were caught in an aggressive thunderstorm and scrambled to locate shelter.  After rejection at the first household, we found ourselves camped out in an orthodontist’s garage containing hundreds of teeth molds. 

The remainder of the summer followed the outlandish, impromptu tone that was set after day one.

Day two, one of the most memorable days of the 4K for me, was the day we scaled the Appalachians.  Now, keep in mind that we were a team of amateur cyclists, at best, about to ascend two mountains on bikes.  Coming from the land flat enough to see my parents eating supper through the kitchen window 300 miles away, I knew it would be a doozy. 

We called ourselves the “Hydration Destroyers,” mostly to boost our morale because a cool name obviously makes you bike faster and longer right? Wrong. 

Somehow by the grace of God we made it to the top of that first mountain to take our obligatory “bikes above the head” photo.  We were group number four that day, so we arrived to the lunch stop after everyone else. 

The amount of food left was scant and our break was cut short since the team needed to head out to reach the destination by sundown. 

We left the lunch stop prematurely with full stomachs and exhaustion enveloping our muscles. 

We couldn’t have made it more than two miles from the stop when we had enough.  The Hydration Destroyers were destroyed. 

We pulled over to the side of the road and got comfortable in someone’s lawn for almost an hour while we cried (mostly Carly), laughed, and spectated while Garrett performed multiple anatomical poses to show off his EMT abilities. 

We chuckled at how ignorant we were, wondering how we thought it was possible to bike across the country. We couldn’t even bike up relatively small mountains. 

What did we get ourselves into?  The rest of that day was characterized by stopping for ice cream, peeing on the side of roads, and turtling our way up the second mountain.  I’m not sure how, but we reached the top before sundown. 

Also, I just want you to know that Garrett fell three times; it is not very important to the story, but pretty humorous. 

The rest of the summer was uphill from there.

I cannot even put into words what I gained from this experience.  It really is about the journey, not the destination.  The most memorable times came from excursions to McDonald’s for coffee, petting every dog ever, and consuming wild berries that Garrett assured us would not result in sudden death. 

If we did not have the water stop under a shady tree in Ohio, we never would have encountered the Emersons. 

The Emerson family, at that time, was just hit with the news that Renee, the matriarch of the house, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and would be soon be starting treatment. 

This family was a blessing to us and reminded us why we ride.  We took a picture with them that I still cherish as one of my favorites from the trip.  They sent us a plethora of kind messages, packages, and endless encouragement.  This is just one example of the hundreds of people we were inspired by this summer; each story as special as the last.  Every time we stopped at gas stations for water, ice cream shops, and Family Dollar it was another chance to spread our mission and hear about other’s battles with cancer. 

Of course none of the summer would be possible without my 22 incredible teammates. 

As I listen to “Unwritten” by Natasha Beddingfield, I am reminded of the time Jeff played it on repeat for the whole day.  Any time I have Gatorade I want to split it with Carly.  Whenever the train next to my apartment rudely wakes me up, I think about Val’s puzzling excitement over them. 

If it were not for these people, my experience would be a whole different story.  Constant support characterized the journey. 

Although it has been a month since leaving my beautiful team I am still struggling with “4k withdrawal”.  It’s real, I promise. 

I find it difficult to wake up without Azar blaring annoying covers of pop songs into my eardrums.  It is weird using indoor plumbing when plenty of perfectly good trees exist to pee behind.  It is probably the worst trying to sit still in a classroom when I know there are mountains and dogs I haven’t met out there. 

If someone asked me a year ago if I would enjoy biking a century I probably would have laughed and then asked what a century is. 

Now, all I do is itch to get back on my bike.  I think it is so rude of the Ulman Cancer Fund to put me on a team with strangers to become best friends in two months, and then rip me away and isolate me back to the Midwest. 

I’m sorry Ohio teammates, but you guys are really not Midwestern despite what you think.  I just want to be made fun of for my accent again.  I crave playing ninja next to hay bales.  I desire to scale the Rockies on two wheels. 

The point of this is not to whine about missing my teammates, which is quite apparent that I do, but it is to encourage you to do something spontaneous. 

If there is something you’ve always wanted to do, why not do it today?  The only thing holding you back is yourself. Now, I’m not saying you have to bike across the country because that’s crazy, but go say hi to the cute guy you always see on campus. 

Run for a leadership position in your club.  Visit your grandparents because all they want to do is spend time with you.  Eat that ice cream because you know you want to, no need for a “cheat day.”  Wear a flower in your hair.  If you really want to hop off the deep end, do the 4K for Cancer. 

If you can go miles without water, days without showering, weeks without clean laundry, months away from home, you can bike across the country.